It’s almost time for me to depart the sacred grounds of Frederick for the Left Coast and SciFoo camp. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon and returning Monday. I should be able to continue posting for California (I assume I’ll have internet access while I am at Google), but the schedule runs from 9 AM until after dinner sessions almost every night. I amy be so busy embracing my inner science geek that I won’t have time for blogging!
Since I spent all weekend surfing stories about Ft Detrick & Dr Ivins (the popular opinion is that he’s not guilty, as evident in today’s FNP article), I realized this morning that I need to spend some time with travel logistics: Planes, trains and automobiles. I think I have it worked out, as my Hotel is within walking distance to one of the CalTrain stations, but asked advice about walking form the train at 11 PM to the hotel, in terms of the safety of doing so.
I have also spent a good amount of time this morning pouring over all of the session recommendations. SciFoo is called an “un-conference”, so the agenda for the meeting will be determined on day one. I also feel some sense of obligation to protect the anonymity of the “Campers”. I don’t want to get univited for spilling some confidential information or something stupid like publishing the guest list (although we’ve not been told that this would be taboo).
So here is what’s up for discussion and suggested as possible sessions. The names and hyperlinks removed to protect the innocent:
There has been much hype about predictive medicine and engineering microbes to solve our pollution and energy needs. Apparently systems biology is going to do all of this. I will argue that all of this is possible because life can be modeled in a predictive framework -despite its complexity.
“Make your own future” – Can scientists come out and play? I’m launching two massively multiplayer forecasting games this fall, and the goal is to get a LOT of scientists to play. I’ll demo the platforms and talk about why I think scientists should spend more time playing games and imagining the future.
Complex Systems – I’d find it interesting to learn more about complexity theory, financial and biological modeling, alife, … is anyone planning on speaking on these?
Optics How-To: “Holographic” 3-D Displays – As many of you are probably aware, there are many technologies capable of projecting volume-filling imagery visible from many viewpoints with the unaided eye. I’d be happy to give a survey on these, such as volumetric, lenticular, multi-view, highly multi-view, sort-of-holographic, etc… does this interest you? I could try to clarify reality from snake oil, too. Advaces in MEMS and GPUs enables new capabilities in this. If you care, please put a “yes” on this paragraph, or drop me a line
I’d be happy to give my presentation showing movies and slides from my time in orbit earlier this year. I’d be happy to answer and and all questions – except the hard ones. Should take about an hour. (Yes, this one is from an actual Space Shuttle Astronaut, how great is that!)
I could bring/demonstrate/discuss:
* bubble logic: microfluidic computing with bits that
* conformal computing: computation as an extensible raw material (please note The name Conformal Computing © is protected).
* milli-biology: reimplementing molecular biology in engineered
* Internet 0: IP to leaf nodes over anything, for ~1$
* I2E (Intelligent Infrastructure for Energy Efficiency):
Internet 0 applied to building energy (which currently wastes
~1/3 of ~70% of the electricity in the US)
* kokompe: digital fabrication design tools
* the Fab Foundation, Fund, and Academy: .org/.com/.edu for
As a science writer I have researched the stats on who actually reads science magazines – the figures are not impressive. 90% of our population is utterly uninspired by the usual sci-communications fare. If we are serious about engaging people on science we need to be doing this better. I’d like to have a session brainstorming this issue – I can talk about some radical approaches I’ve been using with a new kind of “feral” organization I started called the Institute For Figuring. Its mission is to focus on the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and math. The project has met with tremendous success in the art world (to my surprise!) – we currently have a major show at The Hayward gallery in London. Yet it was conceived as a science project. The IFF’s success suggests there is a vast untapped enthusiasm for science+math among the supposedly disinterested public – if only we can engage more creatively. I’d like to present what we’ve been doing on hyperbolic space and crochet – yes you can crochet non-euclidean geometries. I could bring models, talk math, illuminate a path that links Euclid, Einstein and sea slugs. If anyone’s interested we could make a huge SciFoo paper model of a hyperbolic plane – its a truly beautiful object and you’ll finally understand curved space-time in the process.
For logistical reasons we compartmentalize education into disciplines -biology, math, phys etc. In practice we take an interdisciplinary approach to solve the most exciting and complex problems. Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Healthcare solutions of the future will come from pioneers with no respect for boundaries between disciplines. I would like your input on our approach to prepare this next generation of scientists.
The fact that this conference is at Google is no coincidence: not only is there much that Google can learn from science, there is also much that science can learn from Google. I touched on this in my Wired cover story this month (Overview here; examples here) but there’s a lot more to discuss, especially regarding the NSF/IBM/Google project to make the Google infrastructure available to scientists for large-scale data analysis.
The explosive growth of cell phones, especially in developing countries, provides an incredible opportunity to connect people and groups previously isolated from news, knowledge, world society, etc. Whether you look at them as 3 billion networked processors waiting to be harnessed (SETI on cellphones?), 3 billion input/output devices for the internet, or just 3 billion standalone processors in the hands of the poor, I’d love to brainstorm with you on how to use this self-sustaining, expanding technology for good – and especially how to get tools for manipulating this technology into the hands of people living in poorer, cell-centric countries.
What can we do about Climate Change (aka Global Warming), the greatest problem facing mankind? Can we do something about it, or are we just going to have to deal with it? If we are going to have to deal with it, how can we get the information we need to make the right decisions? How can we contribute to solving problems? Finally, who is “we”? How about anybody who is concerned and who has access to a web browser? the Global Real-time Disaster and Environmental Monitoring System (GRDEMS)
Session on the state of the art of biogerontology, the chances for life extension, and how it might be achieved technologically.
Session on do-it-yourself biology, bioDIY, home/garage/backyard biology, whatever you call it!
My question is related to both bioDIY and OpenScience ideas: Why isn’t there a MakerFaire for scientists? In the popular imagination great scientists are thinkers, but I believe much scientific creativity is about ‘doing’ rather than theorizing. Working at Nature I’m aware that the formal literature does little to capture the practical creative side of what many scientists do. Yet even in the era of off-the-shelf products and reagents real science gets done when tweaking, jury-rigging and bootstrapping takes over. Does lab ingenuity and creative improvisation get sufficient recognition in science? Or is there more that scientific employers, societies, conference organizers or publishers can do to reward such contributions? Alongside Open Science ideas, what new tools, networks or forums might exist to celebrate the creative DIYers of science? I’d love to hear from any Makers attending SciFoo
How to turn on a dime Possible technofixes for climate disease. Aspects: emissions reductions, sequestering atmospheric CO2, safety margins needed for any abrupt climate changes, corrosive oceans.
Session on cool tools for neurological rehabilitation, and how you might apply what you do to helping others.
I’ll put my thoughts in between the post on neuro rehab and citizen scientists, because it relates to both. At The Open Prosthetics Project we are trying to empower lead users of prosthetic devices to contribute useful solutions to their problems to the community–DIY prosthetics. This addresses the needs of a community underserved due to its size. Additionally, we’re interested in the possibilities of parasitizing larger markets through creating devices with multiple purposes, e.g. a signal processing board we’re working on that could be used for both prosthetic control as well as for a video game UI (Google Code Page). In any case, a long-winded way of saying that I’m interested in a session on open design as a tool for accomplishing a variety of goals
A session on the next Citizen Scientists – researchers working with civil society groups to address societal challenges.
I’d like to specifically focus on the problem highlighted in his book that “Fewer people are becoming scientists, university departments are closing…” This decline in interest in studying and pursuing a career in science has plagued Europe and the US over the past decade, despite immense efforts aimed at trying to engage and inspire school students during this period of time. In contrast interest in science in Asia and the Far East seems to be stronger than ever. Why have western citizens fallen out of love with science? And what is to be learnt from an audience at Sci Foo who are still presumably in love with it?
“Now count backward from 10″ (aka “Can I practice on YOU???”). Examining why we haven’t applied the technological tools that surround us to medical training. We’ve used the master-apprentice system since before the middle ages. Can’t we put some effort into creating and implementing a system of medical training that doesn’t use you and your family members as teaching material? Why do you think they call them teaching hospitals? And if you thought of it, would you PREFER to go there??? Examining the role simulation could play in medical education, because we will all be patients one day.
I’d like to hear people talk about this: As politics and science increasingly “inform” each other, scientific education wanes, and traditional authorities are eroded by unregulated fire hoses of data and opinion, what is happening to the concepts of factuality and truth? Is the swiftboating of evolution and climate change undermining the status of peer review in lay opinion? Have defensive, self-serving, and overly conservative editorial boards and study sections contributed to the problem? Can science advance in a postmodern environment?
I’d like to see a session which addresses how scientists can play better politics. In some instances, basic researchers are naive, wrong-footed and ostrich-like: i.e. the opposition to the animal rights lobby in the UK in much of the last two decades, or the occasion that scientists persuaded Richard Nixon to promise a cure for cancer by 1976. Duh! But it isn’t always bad. Craig Venter seems to have played pretty clever politics. And the International Panel on Climate Change is an amazing model of international collaboration. What do these experiences teach us about how scientists should defend themselves, play with public expectations, and fight for resources?
Scientists need to get smarter about public engagement – Randy Olson’s “Flock of Dodos” brought that home painfully – but what are the most effective ways to do this? And what can be expected in a post-Bush administration?
I would very much like to have a session on developing a Science Data Commons. This could be seen as a follow on to the session Chris DiBona organised last year called ‘Give us the data’. I think we can really look at how to build a set of tools that will encourage people to collect, markup, and wrap their data and procedures in a way that they can then be usefully put into the public domain. What’s more, with the people at Scifoo we can look at how we can create the incentives that will make this more attractive to researchers. I’ve written a blog post expanding on this.
a session on scientific data availability and integration, probably one of the major issues in scientific communication. How can scientific journals help to make scientific data readily available in a useful form? Fewer papers to read, more data to use… I would be eager to discuss practical issues to find pragmatic solutions to this urgent problem.
Scientific progress is often limited by historical, physical, financial and social factors. Even in collaborative projects, we tend to work within our fields of specialization, with nearby colleagues, on well-supported projects, in arrangements that we hope will confer conventional types of prestige and credit on ourselves as individuals. Meanwhile, everyone has “big little ideas” that fall beneath our personal thresholds for a positive return on investment of resources or time. These ideas languish because they fall between interdisciplinary cracks, because they require sharing between geographically distant thinkers, because they are too esoteric to support, and because the degree of collaboration required would be so great that no one person would get much credit. So my questions are there: Can we think of a way to use connectivity tools to harness the “spare cycles” of widely distributed scientists, even those with no prior contact, to work collaboratively on unconventional types of projects? Would such an approach be useful to eliminate redundancy? How might individual scientists be incentivized to participate in such projects? For now, let’s call this idea HiveMind. I’m hardly a specialist on this subject, so I’d love to hear others’ thoughts – please edit the HiveMind page to weigh in.
I’d be interested in a session that focuses on open innovation. I’d like to get input from SciFoo folks as to where they believe that the greatest opportunities lie for pre-competitive, open IP collaborations across pharma, biotech, hospitals, academia, government, etc. Lilly has already made their core Discovery IT framework openly available in SourceForge. But what else can we do? How can we all work together to improve health care for everyone?
This is an idea that started with an April Fool’s joke. Jonathan Eisen (now Editor-in-Chief of the open-access journal PLoS Biology) coordinated several dozen science bloggers (myself included) to report that the NIH had moved to ban “brain doping”, the practice of using drugs or other products to enhance mental function and thereby obtain an unfair advantage in the world of science. Our foolery got some traction (Jon got called by several newspapers to verify the story), but it turns out that the joke was on us — or at least it was a case of life imitating prank. It turns out that brain doping is a very real thing (see this coverage in Nature, Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, Wired and on NPR) and there’s been genuine concern about its current prevalence and potential future use/abuse. I would propose a session on brain doping in science and academia — the current “state of the art”, the neural mechanisms by which the drugs act, benefits and dangers, possibly even ethics. I could probably do a decent short presentation on this but I’m hoping that a neuroscientist will see this and get excited about the idea as well.
I’d like to suggest a session on how technology can help leaders govern. It would nice to brainstorm about open access governance models, wiki-legislation, social networks, information “markets”, etc–I think the next President should tap into some of these ideas to make it easier to connect citizens to government. Interactive connections (facilitated by the web) that make us feel like we matter.
As a space enthusiast I’d like to discuss the next steps in settling the solar system – particularly Mars. It would appear that the rapidly developing field of synthetic biology offers new technological means of creating off-world biospheres capable of supporting human (or derived from human?) life.
Based on our experience thus far with the Human Speechome Project, I believe it will soon be possible to develop data-driven methods for behavioral phenotyping grounded in rich observational data of individual and social behavior. Given the strong presence of genetic and neuroscience experts at this meeting, I’d be interested in a session that explores new strategies for the study and treatment of disorders (especially developmental disorders) by combining emerging methods of behavioral phenotyping, gene sequencing, neural imaging, and who knows what else.
NDD stands for Nature Deficit Disorder. My session will focus on the ways in which the natural world has been transformed by human endeavor and what is being lost. Based on the recent presentations given at the World Science Festival (NYC) on the 6th Extinction, I will use the soundscape as the emblem for this phenomenon. It is through the experience of the soundscape that I try to draw humans back to the natural world and away from the compulsive tech tethers that so impede us more and more. Paul Shepard and Richard Louv are clear that the further we draw away from the experience of the natural world, the more pathological we become as a culture. I would love to see sessions that encourage the connection between experience in the wild and the ways in which technology can enhance it.
I’d be happy to lead sessions on any of several different topics: existential risk; the simulation argument; human enhancement ethics; observation selection effects; the Fermi paradox; and almost any other topic that I’ve worked on. I would also be happy to lead discussions on some topics that are relevant to my current work, including information hazards, and rational philantropy.
I would be interested in a session on “The Marketplace of Ideas”. This addresses the question whether the current way how scientific research is organized – especially in the academic world – is a good way to make progress. The way the academic system is set up today it provides incentives for researchers to develop strategies that are beneficial for their ‘survival’ on the market (high number of papers / citations / connections in the community / working on fashionable topics etc). Unfortunately, many of the strategies one can observe are at best nonsensical, at worst obstructive to progress. We thus have a system in which the micromotives (career in science) do not lead to a desired macrobehavior (progress in science). I believe the reason for this is that researchers in the academic system are too strongly influenced by financial pressure, peer pressure, and the public opinion which affects the ability of the scientific community to judge on the promise of its own research projects. I have discussed this previously on my blog: We have only ourselves to judge on each other and The Marketplace of Ideas.
I would be interested to discuss the role of unique resource identifiers in providing incentive and credit, for example microattribution for collaborative curation of human genome variation. Anne Cambon-Thomsen has argued that unique identifiers for biological research materials are an ethical necessity. This idea could readily be extended to individuals who volunteer their tissues and medical records, provided firewalls can be guaranteed to protect privacy and to aggregate credit for health advocacy groups.
Open Notebook Science appears to be gaining more and more traction as people become aware of what it is, it’s intentions and how they might benefit. I judge that it could move faster if there was an 80% solution made available today for chemists to manage their data and have an online “electronic notebook”. I’m interested to know what that 80% solution would need to be for scientists to start managing their science in an Open Notebook for others to see. Do the necessary tools exist in an integrated fashion or is it very much a patchwork. How can it be stitched together? Crowdsourcing encyclopedic content is successfully working for Wikipedia. There is an intention for a million minds to annotate proteins using the Wikiproteins platform. In the world of chemistry there are efforts afoot already to allow similar crowdsourced curation of chemistry related data and information. I am interested to discuss other approaches to crowdsourcing science in regards to review and analysis of data.
The Free and Open Science and Technology Paradigm: I’ve spent the past 2 years studying the emerging “Open Science” Movement. Many individuals and organizations (Science Commons, OpenWetWare, Tropical Disease Initiative) are working on various aspects of the same phenomenon–but how does it all fit together? There are already proposals for specific sessions on components of this paradigm–Open Data/”E-science”/DIY Bio/Open Innovation. I will provide an overview of the most significant efforts occurring today and speculate on how all of them could be integrated to achieve spectacular new efficiencies that will vastly accelerate progress. Since there are others better suited to speak on the Open Science aspects, I will speak mainly about the second half, a new approach to technology development, inspired by the success of open source software, and based on a philosophy of Technology Freedom. Specifically, how can we implement open source principles in biotechnology? Most observers are aware that current business models are broken, but viable commercial open source biotech alternatives have yet to arrive. There is an urgent lead for leadership and coordinated action to speed the transition to this new paradigm.
I can discuss the International Effort known as Decade of the Mind. The goal is an investment of $4B over the next decade in “mind” science–basically how mind/consciousness and higher cognition emerge from human brains. Our immediate goal is to get the incoming new administration to commit to the effort in the new President’s first budget message next February. I’d also like to discuss what’s going on with Science 2.0 from a neuroscience perspective.
I can demonstrate how mycelium can be used for filtration of coliform bacteria and the decomposition of petroleum based toxins from entering into downstream habitats, leading to ecological recovery. Since ecological health is inextricably connected to human health, a suite of mycotechnologies can prevent the collapse of ecologies worldwide. Unless we put into action policies and technologies that can implement a course correction now, species diversity will continue to plummet, with humans not only being the primary cause, but one of its many victims. Knowing that mushroom-forming mycelial mats achieve the largest mass of any organism on Earth and yet are only one cell wall thick, generating and infusing all soils, we can benefit from their evolutionary skills. Since fungi can use gamma radiation as an energy source, and do not need light, fungal foods can be grown during space travel. Moreover, I foresee the use of mycelia being applied to terraforming other planets, creating soils lenses. The internet-like structure of mycelia provides resilience and adaptiveness to catastrophia. Furthermore, my research is leading to potentially novel class of medicines, especially antivirals and antibacterials, useful for controlling diseases in environments and human-body habitats. I have a one hour presentation, if the group is interested. My latest book, Mycelium Running, is available for free to attendees.
I will be happy to lead a session on the why, cost, and technology of DNA barcoding the world – all the 10,000,000 species of wild things – so that every one of 7.5 billion people have the abiity to identify any species any where at any time, essentially for free, for whatever purpose matters to them at that moment. The mission is to create real bioliteracy for everyone, within the concept that by being bioliterate, the relationship between people and the rest of the living world will be augmented just as real literacy has chenged the relationship among people(s). The mission behind that is that what remains today of wild biodiversity is still approximately alive and well 1000+ years from now, something that will only be achieved through integration of wild biodiversity with humanity, through both macro and micro negotiated agreements. For background, take a spin through the February 2008 Google tech talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGYAMDGMraA More also at http://www.barcoding.si.edu/ and http://phe.rockefeller.edu/barcode/index.php I come at this from the pragmatics of currently conducting massive insect barcoding in northwestern Costa Rica, in collaboration with the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (University of Guelph), along with a large number of other people and as part of non-damaging biodiversity development as a major tool in tropical conservation. If you can’t read the forest, it is just firewood and biofuel. I can do a full 30 minute slide presentation (similar to the above tech talk (but more advanced and focused), which I think would be best to start it off, or simply lead a stand up discussion). I will be carrying show and tell items from the Costa Rican forest.
Collaborative Action Networks: I’ve witnessed an interesting, emergent social phenomenon which marries ideas of complexity theory, open source pragma, and social transformation. This project, OpenMRS, is a worldwide collaborative action network which seeks to build electronic medical record systems for the poorest of the poor affected by HIV, TB, and malaria. The collective work of this community has evolved an open source software framework responsible for the health data management needs for over 2 million people in 15 countries. I’d like to share my personal experience with this work and ask for further help conceptualizing this “pattern” into a broader, worldwide spanning initiative that creates a comprehensive infrastructure of electronic “boosters” for health systems in developing countries.
UrbanLife 2030 : now that we are an urbanized world…….how do YOU imagine that we will be living in cities? what role will ‘new science’ play? what role will what you are doing play in the city of the future? I am keen to hear what you have to say. you might be very surprised at the impact that you COULD have as the world urbanizes….. i am keen to discuss this.
Spectator Science: Building on the comments above about reaching out to the non-scientific public, I think we need to talk about some real basics: what actually do we think the public needs to know about science? We are pretty good at teaching young scientists how to become scientists, but that’s different from science appreciation. I don’t have to know how to write in iambic pentameters in order to appreciate Hamlet, and I can enjoy music even with no talent for playing it myself. Science is more than a big book of facts; but some facts are important to know. (Which ones?) Science is a way of looking at the universe; but it’s not the only way of looking at the universe. (What makes it special, and how can we communicate that without disrespecting the other ways?) Science is great fun to do, that’s why we do it; but can it be fun as a spectator sport as well? I suspect most of us would agree that the typical “Physics for Poets” or “Astro 101: Moons for Goons” courses taught at universities (I’ve taught a few myself) are terribly unsatisfying for all concerned. I’d like to hear from those who engage in communicating to the public (there are several of you attending) about what works and what doesn’t, and how we scientists can make the communicators’ lives easier. But I would also like us scientists to come up with at least a heuristic for what sorts of things we really think it’s important to communicate, and what things can be left to the practitioners (or serious fans).
Another topic might be on how we should conduct science in face of rising energy prices. Do we really need to attend conferences and workshops that often? Is there a better way of communication between scientists that equals face to face communication? If high fuel prices (and environmental conscience) do not allow us to attend as many conferences as in the past, it might be time to think about the kind of virtual tools we need that could replace some of these meetings?