Posts filed under ‘innovation’
I’m currently in Florence, Italy for PCST2012. I’ve been presenting here on evaluating public engagement with science. I’m also involved in developing the new PCST postgraduate researchers network, which has emerged from a meeting at the European University Institute the day before the conference. A strong theme from the meeting was the need for more accessible information about projects happening and people working in PCST internationally.
That theme has been reiterated within the PCST conference itself. The issue of accessibility came to a head during a plenary yesterday afternoon about the journal Public Understanding of Science, with reflections from past and current editors on its history and future.
In question time, Alice Bell brought up the elephant in the room by angrily critiquing the editors’ attitudes to open access, to which Martin Bauer responded with some valid points about challenges in open access, such as the impact on authors from developing countries.
I’ve made a Storify of some of the tweets from the session, to give you a flavour of what went down.
As a result of yesterday’s session – along with my internal ethical deliberations in recent months – I’ve decided to start boycotting Public Understanding of Science.
I’ll still read it – I have to, it’s one of the main journals in my field – but I’m going to take a risk in my academic career and instead focus on contributing to open access journals, even if they’re lower-impact.
I hope it will lead to change. Here’s a copy of the email I sent withdrawing my submission to PUS this morning:
——– Original Message ——–
From: “Cobi Smith” <email@example.com>
Date: Apr 20, 2012
Subject: Re: PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE – Decision on Manuscript ID PUS-11-0135
Dear Professor Bauer,
thank you again for your consideration of my paper ‘Public engagement in prioritising research proposals: an experiment’, manuscript ID: PUS-11-0135, for inclusion in Public Understanding of Science.
I was delighted when I received your recommendation to revise and resubmit. This is the first paper I’ve submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, emerging from my PhD research. I was prepared for rejection, so to be given constructive feedback and the opportunity to resubmit was a welcome surprise.
I appreciated the reviewer’s comments, because they reinforced my own doubts about my original submission and prompted me to address them. They also guided me towards literature that I’d not yet come across during my PhD which has been a valuable addition to my knowledge base.
However part of the reason I’m yet to resubmit is my concern about Public Understanding of Science failing to move towards an open access publication model. My research, like many in the community of academics contributing to PUS, is about public access to and involvement in scientific knowledge. So I feel I have an ethical obligation to ensure that my own research and knowledge is shared in a way that is publicly accessible.
I had submitted my paper to PUS in September, and in the time between when I submitted and received your feedback I participated in Open Access Week. Being a panelist for Open Access Week in October strengthened my resolve to only work with open access journals, however when I received your promising feedback I said at the time that I would take up your offer to revise and resubmit.
However I now wish to withdraw my paper for consideration from PUS so I can instead submit it for publication in an open access journal. This decision has been prompted by my participation in the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference, specifically the session in which you and past editors of PUS discussed the journal’s history and future.
I understand your concerns about the impact of moving towards an author-pays model of open access on authors from developing countries. I also appreciate the costs involved in running a journal, including the peer review service which I’ve benefited from, as I mentioned earlier. However I think more weight needs to be given to ensuring that research in public engagement with science is open and accessible to those who may use it. This includes many practitioners in museums, governments and non-profit organizations who don’t currently have access to research about and for them – as well as the overwhelming majority of people in the developing world.
I hope that my boycott will be an incentive for those managing PUS to more thoroughly and seriously explore possibilities for moving towards an open access model of publication. I know many people who were in the PCST plenary will be interested to see how PUS follows up from criticisms raised in the session. I’ve mentioned Open Access Week in October to highlight it as an opportune time for PUS to revisit the issue.
My own research and practice has been heavily influenced by the community of academics contributing to PUS. So I genuinely hope that I will be able to contribute to PUS in the future, when such contributions will be accessible to all who may have use for them.
Translation: a quarter of laptops distributed through the One Laptop Per Child program in Uruguay aren’t working
One in four laptops given for free by the government of Uruguay to all public school students two years ago is either broken, under repair, stolen or has crashed, according to an official report published in July.
In 2008 Uruguay was the first country in the world to implement the One Laptop Per Child program, created by US scientist Nicholas Negroponte.
The program aimed to provide every child in the developing world with a laptop for educational purposes, at an affordable price.
With this objective the Uruguayan government created ‘Plan Ceibal’, which between 2008-2009 gave laptops to 380,000 children between 6 and 12 years of age who were enrolled in the country’s public schools.
Now the government has completed a survey to check the condition of the laptops, which has found that 27.4 percent are out of operation for different reasons.
According to the survey 14.2 percent of the laptops are broken; 6.2 percent are being repaired; 3.9 percent are frozen or crashed; one percent have been stolen; and the states of 3.1 percent are unknown.
In the country’s interior, where the laptops were first distributed in 2008, 29.9 percent of the laptops aren’t working. In Montevideo, the capital, 19.6 percent aren’t working, but children there received the laptops a year later in 2009.
The percentage of broken laptops in poor areas is higher, where only 66.3 percent are working. In more favourable environments the percentage reaches 83.5 percent.
“A significant number of faults were expected, but not this many. This discovery means that we’re revising aspects of the plan’s operation and coming up with measures to lower that number,” Fernando Brum, director of Plan Ceibal, told SciDev.Net.
Among the measures include a call centre to help users with broken laptops, mobile repair services to work in schools, and ways to reduce the cost of repairs.
Workshops for parents and teachers on how to look after the laptops have also been organised.
“We should keep in mind that 2010 is the first year that Plan Ceibal is operating across the whole country. We’re still gaining experience and problem solving; reducing the number of laptops that are out of service is one of our primary objectives,” concluded Brum.
You can read about the report in Spanish on the Plan Ceibal site.
This is my translation of a story written by Daniela Hirschfeld on the Science and Development Network, “Uruguay: cuarta parte de portátiles del OLPC no funciona”, published on August 11, 2010. You can read the original in Spanish here.
SciDev.Net stories are published under a Creative Commons attribution license; my translation is available under the same license. Note this license is only for this page. Other works on this website are subject to other licenses; please contact me for details if you’d like to republish other parts of this site.
An internet portal called “YoAgricultor”, driven by the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture, will allow small to medium-size country farmers to join virtual communities where they can access strategic farming information.
Four virtual communities have been launched on the portal this week (June 2nd), for producers of maize, honey, wine and berries. The initiative is a pilot project financed by the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA) and the Inter-American Development Bank, which could reach an estimated 2000 farmers.
In each virtual community farmers can find free information about plant health, productivity, agricultural techniques and weather and market alerts, among other things. There are also forums in which farmers can communicate with each other.
The portal’s contents have been developed in conjunction with farmers and organised following stages of production. Agronomists and members of agricultural organisations developed the contents including short videos, podcasts, text and photographs.
“This project is purely knowledge management: we’re taking the knowledge of producers and putting it into a system in which they can participate and enhance their activity,” Alain Hermosilla, the coordinator of YoAgricultor, said.
“A site like this hasn’t existed in Latin America until now, but it’s completely replicable and exportable, plus it’s developed with free software,” he added.
The portal also includes a service called DatAgro that allows maize farmers to receive a text message with guidance on market prices, weather alerts and crop improvement data. This mobile service will soon be introduced for berry farmers, beekeepers, winemakers and organisations for stock breeders in the south of Chile, according to John Zoltner, head of Zoltner Consulting Group, the Chilean company running the service.
In the near future, strategic information delivered via mobile phones might extend to other Latin American countries, where Zoltner said they are already talking with farmers of potato, coffee and other agricultural products.
This technology, he added, “will also be implemented in a pilot project with the Ministry of Health in Peru and the Pan American Health Organization, to build the capacity of health professionals and community workers who care for pregnant women and small children, with the objective of reducing rates of infant mortality in the Peruvian highlands”.
This is my translation of a story written by Paula Leighton on the Science and Development Network, “Internet y celulares mejoran gestión agrícola en Chile”, published on June 4 2010. You can read the original in Spanish here.
SciDev.Net stories are published under a Creative Commons attribution license; this translation is available under the same license. Note this license is only for this page. Other works on this website are subject to other licenses; please contact me for details if you’d like to republish other parts of this site.
An international team of scientists has developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM), bringing salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer to reality.
The research team – based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus – has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage.
Salinity affects agriculture worldwide, which means the results of this research could impact on world food production and security.
The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK.
The results of their work were published recently in the top international plant science journal, The Plant Cell.
“Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world’s food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases,” said the team’s leader, Professor Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).
“Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught will have a significant impact on world food production.”
Professor Tester said his team used the technique to keep salt – as sodium ions (Na+) – out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant’s water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot.
“This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant’s tolerance to salinity,” Professor Tester said.
“In doing this, we’ve enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We’ve used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better.”
The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.
“Our results in rice already look very promising,” Professor Tester said.
This story was written with David Ellis and published in Adelaidean magazine.
National Science Week in August brought the usual onslaught of work for ACPFG’s communication and education team, including a mammoth effort from Education Manager Monica Ogierman and some invaluable ACPFG volunteers at Science Alive at the Adelaide showgrounds.
This year we also ran some experimental public participation events for my research through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). I’m investigating whether public involvement in research funding decisions would impact public ownership and approval of research outcomes.
Three ACPFG scientists courageously volunteered their time and energy to pitch their research to the public, and be judged accordingly. All three are exceptional science communicators and we went through their presentations together before the events; the order of the presenting scientists was changed for each of the three events to eliminate some potential problems with the voting process. Nonetheless, recent PhD graduate Darren Plett was the clear winner, much to the horror of established doctors Rachel Burton and Trevor Garnett.
The model for my research came from an event I was involved with while working in the UK in 2007. Based in Cambridge as a science journalist, I was asked to write a magazine story about an event hosted by the Institute for Food Research in the nearby city of Norwich. The results from that event are the subject of an upcoming paper in the journal Public Understanding of Science. It was a resounding success and I thought the method could be adapted well to Australia.
Running the 70-participant event at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, including distributing and collecting two lots of surveys, was a massive effort. So I enlisted the help of several volunteers, including ACPFG’s Melissa Pickering and visitor Sandra Schmoeckel, who sacrificed the start of dinner to take care of latecomers.
The two smaller events in Canberra were at The Front Cafe and Gallery, in Lyneham, supported by CPAS and part of the Australian Science Festival. The audience was a mix of federal public servants and sceptical students, who had some curly questions for the presenting scientists.
I have yet to analyse the quantitative and qualitative survey data collected at the events, but the voting patterns at events in both countries have been consistent. In all cases the least experienced male researchers took first prize, with the most established female researchers coming last. It appears the idea that the public would make fair decisions about science funding needs to be met with some scepticism!
This article appears in Vector magazine – you can also read articles by two of the scientists who presented at these events in it.