Posts filed under ‘democracy’
On Friday an article I wrote about values and priorities in open data was published. This led to many discussions and feedback from people that I found surprisingly positive. Given that I’ve advocated for human rights with indigenous peoples and I have been studied as a woman in technology, my advocacy for open knowledge comes with caveats. Those caveats are why for example I MCed The Privacy Workshop last year.
People fear openness for many different reasons. Peoples’ confidence in expressing themselves in public depend upon social factors and may be impacted by systemic bias that incentivises some to speak up while demotivating others. It was a big change for me to contribute to Wikipedia revealing my real name, which I only did after AdaCamp, because I realized that openness might help address the gender gap.
I was a little disturbed about how overwhelmingly positive feedback on my open data article was, because I know how consensus can undermine diversity. I know there are good reasons people may fear open data. After the article was published I explicitly welcomed alternative viewpoints in ways and places that I connect with people with different experiences to mine. I was happy to receive some responses in private – however it saddens me that they are private because people do not feel comfortable sharing them publicly. I would like to live in a world in which everyone was free and confident to express their experiences in their own voices without fear. I put effort into seeking and hearing voices beyond those typically in the public sphere. My experience publishing this article reinforced that effort and the intention behind it.
Incidentally, I’m participating in Mindful in May. I’m helping with Progress 2015 this week in Melbourne. Not incidentally, I’m participating in an open knowledge meetup when I’m in Canberra next week. I’ll stay until I present at ANU later in the month.
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.
Update: Subsequent to my post, there has been discussion about this on the Public Understanding of Science blog (which further frustrated me) and on Jack Stilgoe’s blog (which has made me hopeful), then on The Guardian’s Political Science blog.
I wrote this article about my Adacamp experience for RiAus when I worked there.
Recently I was honoured to attend the first-ever AdaCamp, an ‘unconference’ for women in open technology, hosted by The Ada Initiative at the CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne. I was attending this during my holidays with no particular affiliation; however it became evident throughout the day that the conference had relevance to my role at RiAus in many ways.
This conference preceded linux.conf.au, an open technology conference, but was specifically for women. Why? For reasons the Ada Initiative was set up to address. Women are underrepresented in the technology industry – which is why RiAus has hosted activities such as the WIT luncheon late last year. Most starkly, women make up less than 2% ofparticipants in open source projects. Given that RiAus is about bringing science (including computer science) to people and people to science, this is an issue of concern. Open philosophies align well with the RiAus raison d’être, as they allow people of all types and backgrounds to benefit from the wonders of science. Last year I presented on a panel at Flinders University library during open access week. Whether it’s open access to research or open source technology there are shared principles — which was the theme of one of the AdaCamp sessions, captured here.
One of the first sessions at AdaCamp was dedicated to the impostor syndrome, which afflicts women in science as much as women in open technology (everybody in the session, including myself, identified with this). I added to that wiki a feature in Nature about the impostor syndrome in women scientists. Speaking of which, women are underrepresented as editors of Wikipedia. Have you ever used Wikipedia? Have you ever contributed to it? I had, but it never occurred to me to identify as an editor until I heard that women were underrepresented – and there’s a mailing list about that.
One of the best things about AdaCamp was meeting some amazing women from around Oceania and beyond who are using their passion to defy stereotypes of who participates in open projects. You can see a photo of us, and read blog posts from other participants, here. AdaCamp stood out for me from other conferences because everyone participated and seemed to really want to go beyond the conference and drive things out in the real world (thanks in part, I’m sure, to the ‘unconference’ format). I found it useful to identify potential speakers and presenters for future RiAus programs, and to get ideas for projects that could work in other organisations I’ve been involved with, such as Hackerspace Adelaide.
It also made me look at whether women are represented in technology projects RiAus is involved with, such as the upcoming 3D Printing workshop, which will indeed feature an exceptional woman in technology — Dr Genevieve Bell from Intel.
I leave for Chile this Saturday! So forgive me for being brief, but I still have much packing and organising to do. Over the next month you can expect updates on my travel blog about the big move and my first experiences in South America.
This post is mostly to share the slides from my presentation at the Royal Institute of Australia on Monday night. It was great to discuss some issues from my thesis with other members of Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and some members of the public. The slides can accompany the RiAus audio recording of the event, but beware the recording is of more than just my presentation, there’s 25 minutes of preamble first.
This talk was more focused on how my work relates to Federal Government policy, rather than democracy in general, which was the focus of my session at the national ASC conference in February. Kristin Alford from Bridge8 blogged about the session in Canberra; it’s interesting to see what people take away from my talks! I always try and get my audience to participate somehow, given I’m presenting about public engagement. The bits people actively participate in are the bits that stand out most in people’s minds. This is reflected in the impromptu poll I ran at the very start of my presentation in Canberra, which was the focus of half of Kristin’s writeup of it. More evidence to suggest participatory, two-way engagement is most fruitful!
This might mean that people will remember my presentation last night more for the trivia question about a quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than the main messages from my thesis, but I guess that’s my own fault for pitting my work against that of Douglas Adams.
Me voy a preparar para viajar a Chile ahora. Deséame suerte!
I continue to lament the lack of the ‘published high’ I get from journalism while I work on my MPhil. However I’m emerging from this academic fugue for two conferences next month.
Firstly I’m heading to Canberra to present at the Australian Science Communicators conference, among other things. One of those other things is an interview – in Spanish – at the Chilean consulate, to get a working holiday visa for my move there at the end of April. You can keep up to date with that on my travel blog.
After Canberra I’ll return to Adelaide to volunteer at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following my fantastic adventure at WCSFP (the subject of my previous post). I wrote a roundup of my highlights from the WCSFP on my Nature blog, which has been woefully neglected since.
In Canberra I’ll be talking about how to avoid preaching to the converted in science engagement, as well as being part of a panel discussion on “Tools for Democracy and Dialogue”. This is the summary of my presentation:
Events aimed at public engagement with science often attract the same crowd.
They’re sometimes planned with little consideration for who will participate, beyond sheer numbers. So rather than representing a broad public, outcomes may represent people with above average interest in science and, studies suggest, socioeconomic status and education to match.
This raises issues of equality, and can limit the value of feedback from such events. As part of my research, I’ve looked at different ways participants have been recruited and what implications this has for outcomes of public engagement with science.