Building Blogs of Science

Drafting proposals in the open

Posted in Health and Medicine, Science, Science and Society by kubke on April 27, 2011

[By Fabiana Kubke and Daniel Mietchen, Original post in]

This is the first of a series of initially 5 posts in which we – Fabiana Kubke[1], Daniel Mietchen, and anyone interested to join us –  are planning to reflect on a number of projects related to science in the digital age. We have applied for (and admitted to) the Getting your CC project funded course at P2P University that started today and is scheduled to help participants on their way to submission-ready grant proposals by mid-July.

Default to open

The underlying assumption is that open collaborative environments would have a positive impact on science and the relationship between science and society.

“I definitely believe that science in general is more effective the more open people are,” says evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen of the University of California (UC), Davis, who keeps much of his research open. “There are unquestionably risks for people that come with [openness], but the benefits to society are enormous. Given that taxpayers are paying for our work, I think that the default should be to be open unless you can prove that it’s a bad idea.” [2]

The ultimate goal of defaulting to ‘open’, as Eisen suggests, requires suitable (and sustainable) collaborative environments with low adoption barriers. The initial focus must therefore be on how to ‘build’ those environments (or on how to re-purpose existing technology to serve this goal).

Reusing and repurposing existing knowledge

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world and with each other.” Paulo Freire[3]

What we want to address is how to encourage the re-use and re-purposing (Freire’s re-invention) of scientific knowledge through collaboration between the scientific community and the wider society. This ‘invention and re-invention’ is currently hindered by the traditional systems through which science operates: closed notebooks, manuscripts behind pay-walls, no access to the primary data, etc., and especially copyright and licensing limitations. This inevitably leads to duplication of efforts that could otherwise be avoided if the processes were to be made more open.  (See also [4].)

One place to start is by making existing scientific literature licenced under Creative Commons (or other open licenses) available in ways such that it can be edited, updated, commented upon and re-purposed. The goal is to shift the scientific literature from its current static format to a more dynamic one that is more aligned with both how science is done and how information is used[5].

The bigger picture

“Increasing the number of things you have can be useful, but increasing the amount of knowledge you have can be transformative.” Clay Shirky [6]

The general scheme of how we think of the bigger picture is here [7]:

We see science as providing information; but that information can only be transformed into knowledge when the different spheres of society can interact with it in a usable manner. One crucial initial step is to make the information available in a way that allows diversifying the ways in which information/knowledge is being put to use so that it can have the desired transformative effect.

How are we planning to achieve (some of) this?

One proposal on how to achieve openness in scientific information was led by Daniel Mietchen and took the shape of the COASPedia project that aimed  to “demonstrate to the scientific community that scientific articles published online under CC-BY-licenses can be arranged in a different and — importantly — more efficient manner than those published in classical journals.” The COASPedia project – initially presented at COASP 2010 – was a finalist in the Wissenswert initiative of Wikimedia Deutschland, but did not get funded.

We have now signed up (and were accepted into) a course on “Getting your cc-project funded”, run by P2PU. The course starts on April 26th, and we will be working on expanding on the original project during the course and after and drafting a proposal to get the project funded. To be admitted into the course we had to offer 3 ideas; each will specifically be described (and opened for discussion) in each of the following posts. They all sit around the concept of a basic repository (whatever shape this may take).

“Hence, in the name of the ‘preservation of culture and knowledge’ we have a system which achieves neither true knowledge nor true culture.” Paulo Freire [3]

This basic framework of our ideas for the course is not too different from what was proposed in the original COASPedia proposal:  What we would like is for information to become useable, findable, and linkable while still capturing not only the original work but also the different contributions and their authors (i.e., preserving the cultural heritage of science). The 2 other ideas sit more specifically around how the usability, findability and linkability can help transform the way we relate with the information at hand.

The ultimate goal is not simply a modernisation of the way that information is made available, we also hope to capture the possibilities that this modernisation affords to improve the outcomes of science as a whole – with respect to how it interacts with society, how it becomes transformed into knowledge, and how it becomes part of our cultural heritage. Or in Shirky;’s words:

“what matters now is not the new capabilities we have but how we turn those capabilities, both technical and social, into opportunities[6] (emphasis added)

The proposal

In the spirit of openness, we will keep the entire drafting process as open as possible, so as to invite feedback and other contributions from early on.

In order to help us identify the platforms that are best suited to a collaborative writing process of this kind, we will use this series of blog posts to experiment a bit with several potential drafting environments.

An aggregated view of the project will be maintained at

Footnotes and references:

We will link directly where possible, and use the endnotes mainly to store the metadata of some key references.

[1] Disclosure: Fabiana Kubke is a member of the advisory panel of Creative Commons Aoteaoroa New Zealand

[2] Wald, C. (2010). Scientists Embrace Openness. Science. doi:10.1126/science.caredit.a1000036

[3] Quote was taken from Freire, P. (1985). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth  Middlesex: Penguin. A website devoted to this work ( has useful information on both the author and the text.

[4] Radder, H. (2010). The commodification of academic research : science and the modern university. Pittsburgh  Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press.

[5] An article along these lines of thought sits in SpeciesID and in Nature Preceedings.

[6] In Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive surplus : creativity and generosity in a connected age. London: Allen Lane. (ISBN 978-1-846-14218-5) (see book review here)

[7] This mindmap began as a discussion with Tabitha Roder over a NZ olpc testing session in Auckland. These ideas were thrown into a prezi and the derived mindmap now includes modifications suggested by Claudia Koltzenburg