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Mozilla Launches Initiative To Adapt Scientific Practice To the Open Web

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the dead-trees-need-not-apply dept.

Mozilla 28

An anonymous reader writes "Today Mozilla announced the Mozilla Science Lab, a project to help modernize scientific practices to make better use of the open web. "Scientists created the web — but the open web still hasn't transformed scientific practice to the same extent we've seen in other areas like media, education and business. For all of the incredible discoveries of the last century, science is still largely rooted in the "analog" age. Credit systems in science are still largely based around "papers," for example, and as a result researchers are often discouraged from sharing, learning, reusing, and adopting the type of open and collaborative learning that the web makes possible.' Hopefully this can be another step in moving away from traditional publishing practices, and encourage a new generation of scientists to make their data available in more useful ways."

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Right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44007363)

Is Mozilla going to employ them after they fail to obtain tenure because they didn't publish?

Re:Right (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about a year ago | (#44007455)

But....but...they're going to use "next-generation web solutions to solve real problems in science..."

Whatever those real problems in science are and whatever those next generation web solutions are...but Mozilla will be there....*eye roll*

*Sigh* (0, Redundant)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about a year ago | (#44007395)

"...science is still largely rooted in the "analog" age..."

When people post inane statements like this, you have to wonder about the state of the educational system...

"How Cute" (0)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about a year ago | (#44007447)

A little three person project?!

I'll wait until someone with real money decides to properly fund something.

Re:"How Cute" (2)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about a year ago | (#44008555)

The Mozilla Science Lab is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which definitely has real money. And three dedicated people who know what they're doing can accomplish a lot.

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44007459)

Researchers are discouraged... from learning? What the hell?

Re:What? (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#44007825)

Yeah, I could see that statement as being true.

Many fields are so well-developed that in order to stay competitive, researchers must be highly specialized, ignoring all other branches of their discipline for their one specific area of expertise. Time spent learning those other branches is time not spent on the all-important publications. Even though learning about other areas might be better in the long run, the immediate goal of keeping one's job must be met first.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a natural consequence of a system where "breaking even" requires ever-increasing effort. Since we haven't had our BitCoin story yet today, I'll bring them up. Consider how the effort to mine one coin increases exponentially. Very rapidly, the technology required to be a viable miner has gone from just a spare videocard to specialized (and expensive) hashing hardware. Just as in academia, only the people who specialize can hope to keep up with the others who specialize. There just isn't time for anything else.

The solution to this is to base rewards on something that doesn't require increasing effort, but that's rather difficult in academia. Research itself gets more difficult as more discoveries are made.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44008045)

No one is really reading or reviewing most of these publications. Only very few contain useful information, the vast majority is people endlessly comparing the means of two groups with each other, while not investigating distributions or any deeper aspect of the data, and also dropping outliers that dont fit their theory or conception that everything is normally distributed. Further if it looks like their theory does not pan out, most wont publish about it, and are actively encouraged to do so by their peers. This is why when the publication rate exceeds the speed of light in the near future it wont be held as a violation of the laws of physics.

Re:What? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44008817)

Many fields are so well-developed that in order to stay competitive, researchers must be highly specialized, ignoring all other branches of their discipline for their one specific area of expertise. Time spent learning those other branches is time not spent on the all-important publications. Even though learning about other areas might be better in the long run, the immediate goal of keeping one's job must be met first.

In my experience, having worked in physics research, and with connections and friends in chemistry and engineering, this effectively not true. There may be a couple people so overworked they have zero time for extra activities and some are short on time when starting families, but otherwise my colleagues could all easily read extra papers and news in outside areas more so if they wanted to. The issue isn't so much time, it is an actual motivation and interest in other research (which may still partially be influenced by amount of free time).

People seem to work in subfields because they are interested, or otherwise end up developing a strong interest in the field they are in after joining it. They would rather seek out more directly relevant papers even if they may not be as useful or novel than stuff in other fields. Many still read up on other specific fields of interest. I especially see this for people who changed fields at some point, and they still frequently keep up on the previous field in addition to their new one. I still get someone stopping by once a week with a, "you have to see this, it is really cool (or really stupid...)," from them digging through papers outside of their field.

While softening the publish or die approach to academia would free up a lot of time, most of that would still end up going back into the same subfield work for a lot of the people I know. And for those that would use that time to explore other fields, they are already doing so now, just would do even more so.

Re:What? (1)

GLMDesigns (2044134) | about a year ago | (#44010085)

Yes. If you don't have access to material you are discouraged from learning. When I finished graduate school I lost all access to scholarly literature. My learning, my ability to acquire more knowledge, has been curtailed.

Academic Free License version 3.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44007525)

This is the best one to publish under, also because AFL is my favourite footy code.

Bravo (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year ago | (#44007687)

Mozilla's been doing quite a bit of following in the past few years. Nice to see them take on something new and potentially significant. I don't know if they're the right folks for the job (they certainly have the cache') or if they'll succeed, but it's a good way for the Foundation to think that doesn't merely involve mimicking what Google does.

Verification of results (4, Interesting)

countach44 (790998) | about a year ago | (#44007697)

One thing that would be great would be to fund studies that's sole purpose is to verify/reproduce someone else's work. Obviously, with the current state of funding, this really doesn't happen. Once something is published, we as the next researchers are forced to take results as fact - which may not be true due to error, low yield, or (hopefully not) fabrication [nytimes.com] of [nature.com] results [americanscientist.org] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_misconduct [wikipedia.org] ).

I really do believe that incentivizing verification of results and repeat studies (with reasonable limits, of course) would improve scientific research tremendously. However, it's even less likely to take hold than moving away from "publish or perish."

Re:Verification of results (1)

mx+b (2078162) | about a year ago | (#44008769)

I completely agree with you. Having gone through graduate school, there was way too much emphasis on publishing something new, and not any interest in verifying. I often would be interested in learning about a topic and verifying the results, but it would be considered wasteful to do, or at the least not contributing to your papers (which must be novel).

Whether Mozilla could help with this or not, I do not know, but I wish there was a good code repository of scientific code example snippets. I absolutely HATE trying to read a paper that is not clear on the topic (because of page limits), does not adequately define the algorithm, then rushes to some graphs without much discussion. I think there needs to be more explanation on the thinking behind the algorithms, the methodology, and the *code!*. The code should be open sourced along with the paper, for everyone to verify. With good comments, although based on previous code I've seen from scientists, probably no good comments or documentation at all. Perhaps that's Mozilla's niche, a tool to parse science code and make it understandable!

Re:Verification of results (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44009289)

Once something is published, we as the next researchers are forced to take results as fact

Or we just take it for what it is, a result in a paper and try to examine the quality of the work presented in the paper. It doesn't help if they lied in the paper, but will affect the weight given to a result if it does have low significance or looks like they missed something. It is pretty hard to get funding to do the exact same experiment over again, but there are still a lot of studies that verify and reproduce. In the hard sciences you can in many cases get funding to remeasure a result with more accuracy or precision, and in the softer sciences, there are usually additional variations and factors that can be expanded upon. So I wouldn't say researchers are forced to take results as fact... although they may be willing to if it is supportive enough for some other project.

you FAIL it? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44008143)

say I'm apFacking

PetPeeve: Where is the Code & Data? (2)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about a year ago | (#44008649)

It is obnoxious that someone can publish their results without providing the code & data available for independent verification.

When are we going to return to the _proper_ scientific process & analysis?

How does Mozilla even have a plan to change this broken symptom of "everything behind a paywall" ?

Web of trust (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44008951)

A decentralized peer-to-peer content distribution and review system (torrent). Seeding is endorsement of the content.

List publications endorsed (seeded) by researchers you trust.

Download a publication, read it.

If it passes your scrutiny, you seed it too.

Re:Web of trust (1)

mZHg (2035814) | about a year ago | (#44010619)

As long as you are qualified to judge what you download and read, then you can choose to seed it.
If "approval" is not restricted to qualified people (like current peer review process) it's a open door to a big mess!

Massive approval != correct publication. (just look how many people use homeopathy...)

Re:Web of trust (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44011509)

Do you mean "impact factor [wikipedia.org] "?

Scientists do leverage quite a bit of web tech (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44009101)

As is, I would say scientists do leverage quite a bit of practices as exemplified by the open web, just it might not be as open to the public.

The last three labs I worked in shared work with a wiki system internally. Friends I know in collaborations more than a couple people also have similar setups. They are usually not open to the public, but access on some of them are granted to people who ask or at least people on similar projects. Usually the hesitation to open it up comes about because the write ups there are quite menial and/or rough, and in one case because of some red tape from the university about what type of documents could be shared with the public. I know there are documents on our current wiki would rather not have to answer questions about from people misreading it, and would much rather answer questions directly if they had any. E.g. I wouldn't want someone to try to figure out what voltage and current settings we use for a piece of equipment from the document on the wiki when people on the team know the dial is off by quite a bit, but if they asked me I would give them the actual values that such things would correspond to.

I'm not saying there isn't more need for such tech and opportunities to improve access and use. A lot of groups have to make do with what is already available as opposed developing something for their specific needs. This limits them to more general tech non-science software creators made or more specific tech that only exists because a larger research group somewhere else actually had the time and personnel to dedicate to developing the software. The more such software that is out there and the more well developed it is, the more likely it will meet the needs of a group that can't develop their own stuff.

But I think it isn't appropriate to say science needs to be modernized by introducing such web tools, as many of them are already there and making a big difference. They could use even more such tools though, and there are steps that could be taken to make sure the tools are more visible. Although, ultimate, especially if the goal is to share data and work outside collaborations and people willing to ask for stuff, the amount of sharing won't be limited by the tools, but by the amount of time the scientists will put into it instead of doing more direct work.

Can't wait (1)

linear a (584575) | about a year ago | (#44009381)

I for one can't wait for academic credentials to be judged based on .... #cough# ... blogs.

Spammers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44010457)

I see from the "Recent changes" page on the Wiki that spammers are straight onto this...

Scientists did not create the web (1)

iliketrash (624051) | about a year ago | (#44012211)

"Scientists created the web"

No—_engineers_ created the web.

Re:Scientists did not create the web (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | about a year ago | (#44013791)

Tim Berners-Lee [wikipedia.org] is a computer scientist. Robert Cailliau [wikipedia.org] is an informatics engineer and a computer scientist. Nicola Pellow [wikipedia.org] was a math undergrad. The Web was created [wikipedia.org] at CERN [wikipedia.org] (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and first deployed to science departments and physics labs like SLAC [wikipedia.org] (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) and Fermilab. [wikipedia.org]

So yes, _scientists_ did create the Web.

Re:Scientists did not create the web (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44017219)

Just because the term "Computer scientist" contains the words "Scientist" does not actually make it one. It's a misnomer. Computer scientists are actually either mathematicians or engineers, depending on their specialties. Also, to put it quite simply, scientists do not create things. They just think about things; engineers create them.

Re:Scientists did not create the web (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | about a year ago | (#44017417)

Just because the term "Computer scientist" contains the words "Scientist" does not actually make it one. It's a misnomer. Computer scientists are actually either mathematicians or engineers, depending on their specialties.

That's a rather narrow understanding of a fairly broad field of study.

Computer Science [wikipedia.org] :

Computer science or computing science (abbreviated CS or CompSci) is the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications. A computer scientist specializes in the theory of computation and the design of computational systems.

See also: Applied Science [wikipedia.org]

Applied science is typically (i.e., not always) engineering, which develops technology, although there might be feedback between basic science and applied science: research and development (R&D).

R&D, like say, a prototype networked information system that makes data available on "pages" of hyper-linked text -- a "web" of data. The proof-of-concept came first, the engineering came after.

Also, to put it quite simply, scientists do not create things. They just think about things; engineers create them.

People who "just think about things" are called philosophers. Scientists create a great number of things. If such creations are found to have useful properties, someone then figures out how to efficiently produce them in larger quantities. Those people can be scientists or engineers or both, depending on the challenges involved. Other engineers then figure out how to use those creations to make stuff that gets used by other people.

Re:Scientists did not create the web (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44019775)

Also, to put it quite simply, scientists do not create things.

Scientists do spend quite a bit of time making things, Depending on the resources of the project they work on, and whether or not their need is common enough to have an off the shelf solution, they frequently have to design and build things themselves. I've had groups I've worked for that had no engineering staff, so pretty much was up to myself to design and build mechanical and electrical tools as needed. Half the time I ended up machining the stuff myself because it was quicker than dealing with local shops that had backlogs. Even at the group I am in now that has an engineering staff, there are circuits I have more experience in and will design myself, and for mechanical things it is sometimes quicker to just draw it up myself, and then ask for a second opinion if it is an important enough device.

They just think about things; engineers create them.

And some of us are experimentalists, so building and creating follows the thinking stage.

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