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Do we have a magic flute for K-12 Web Science?

October 27th, 2015

In early July of 2015, Tetherless World Constellation (TWC) opened its door for four young men of the 2015 summer program of Rensselaer Research Experience for High School Students. The program covered a period of four weeks and each student was asked to choose a small and focused topic for research experience. They each were also asked to prepared a poster and present it in public at the end of the program.

Web Science was the discipline chosen by the four high school students at TWC. Before their arrival several professors, research scientists and graduate students formed a mentoring group, and officially I was assigned the task to mentor two of the four students. Such a fresh experience! And then a question came up was: do we have a curriculum of Web Science for High School Students? And for a period of four weeks? We do have excellent textbooks for Semantic Web, Data Science, and more, but most of them are not for high school students. Also the ‘research centric’ feature of the summer program indicated that we should not focus only on teaching but perhaps needed to spend more time on advising a small research project.

My simple plan was, for week 1 we focused on basic concepts, for weeks 2 and 3 the students were assigned a specific topic taken from an existing project, and for week 4 we focused on result analysis, wrap up and poster preparation. A google doc was used to record the basic concepts, technical resources and assignments we introduced and discussed in week 1. I thought those materials could be a little bit more for the students, but to my surprise they took them up really fast, which gave me the confidence to assign them research topics from ongoing projects. One of the students was asked to do statistical analysis of records on the Deep Carbon Observatory Data Portal, and presented the results in interactive visualizations. The other student worked on the visualization of geologic time and connections to Web resources such as Wikipedia. Technologies used were RDF database, SPARQL query, JavaScript, D3.js and JSON data format.

Hope the short program has evoked the students’ interest to explore more and deeper in Web Science. Some of them will soon graduate from high school and go to universities. Wish them good luck!

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Historic launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

September 30th, 2015

An information email in early September from Simon Hodson, the CODATA Executive Director, attracted my deep interest. His email was about the high-level political launch for the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. I was interested because I have worked on Open Data in the past few years and the experience shows that Open Data much more comprehensive than a sole technical issue. I was excited to see that there will be such an event initiated by political partners and focusing on social impacts. And thanks to the support from the CODATA Early Career Data Professionals Working Group, which made it possible for me to head to New York City to attend the forum in person on September 28th.

The forum was held in the Jade Room of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and lasted for three hours from 2 to 5PM, with a tight but well-organized schedule of about 10 lightning talks, four panels and about 30 commitment introductions from the partners. The panels and lightning talks focused on why open data is needed, how to make data open and, especially, what and the value of open data for The 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the social impact that the data can generate. I was happy to see that the successful stories of open geospatial data were mentioned several times in the lightening talks and the panels. For example, delegates from the World Resources Institute presented the Global Forest Watch-Fires (GFW-Fires), which provides near-real time information from various resources that can enable people to take prompt response before the fire be out of control. During the partner introductions, I heard more exciting news about the actions that the stakeholders in governments, academia, industry and non-profit organizations are going to take actions to support the joint efforts of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. For example, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation will invest $20m to improve data on coverage of nutrition interventions and other key indicators by 2020 in several countries; the DigitalGlobe commits to provide three countries with evaluation licenses to their BaseMap service as well as training sessions for human resources; the Planet Labs commits $60 million in geospatial imagery to support the global community; and the William and flora Hewlett Foundation is proposing to commit about $3m to the start-up support of the secretariat for a Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. A list of the current partners is accessible on the partnership’s website.

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data has a long-term vision for the year 2030: A world in which everyone is able to engage in solving the world’s greatest problems by (1) Effectively Using Data and (2) Fostering Trust and Accountability in the Sharing of Data. The pioneering partners in this effort have already committed to deliver more than 100 data driven projects worldwide to pave the pathway for the vision 2030. For the first year, the partnership will work together to achieve these goals: (1) Improve the Effective Use of Data, (2) Fill Key Data Gaps, (3) Expand Data Literacy and Capacity, (4) Increase Openness and leverage of Existing Data, and (5) Mobilize Political Will and Resources.

The forum was chaired by Prof. Sanjeev Khagram, with over 200 attendees from various backgrounds. During the reception time after the forum, I had a brief chat with Prof. Khagram about CODATA and also the Early Career Data Professionals Working Group, as well as the potential collaborations. He informed me that the partnership is open and invites broad participation to address the sustainable development goals. Prof. Khagram also mentioned that a bigger event, the World Data Forum, will take place in 2016. I also had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Bob Chen from CIESIN, Columbia University about recent activities. It seems that ‘climate change’ is the topic of focus for several conferences in the year 2015, such as the International Scientific Conference, the Research Data Alliance Sixth Plenary Meeting and the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and Paris is the city for all these three events.

The report A World That Counts: Mobilising The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, prepared by the United Nation Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, provides more background information about the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

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Data and Semantics — Topics of Interest at ESIP 2015 Summer Meeting

July 27th, 2015

The ESIP 2015 Summer Meeting was held at Pacific Grove, CA in the week of July 14-17. Pacific Grove is such a beautiful place with the coast line, sand beach and sun set. What excited me more are the science and technical topics covered in the meeting sessions, as well as the opportunity to catch up with friends in the ESIP community. Excellent topics + a scenic place + friends = a wonderful meeting. Thanks a lot to the meeting organizers!

The theme of this summer meeting is “The Federation of Earth Science Information Partners & Community Resilience: Coming Together.” Though my focus was Semantic Web and data stewardship relevant sessions, I was able to see the topic ‘resilience’ in various presented works. It was nice to see that the ESIP community has an ontology portal. It implements the Bio Portal infrastructure and focuses on collecting ontologies and vocabularies in the field of Earth sciences. With more submissions from the community in the future the portal has great potential for geo-semantics research, similar to what the Bio Portal does for bioinformatics. An important topic was reviewing progress and discussing directions for the future. Prof. Peter Fox from RPI offered a short overview. The ESIP Semantic Web cluster is nine years old, and it is nice to see that through the cluster has helped improve the visibility of semantic web methods and technologies in the grand field of geoinformatics. A key feature supporting the success of Semantic Web is that it is an open world and it evolves and updates.

There were several topics or projects of interest that I recorded during the meeting:

(1) schema.org: It recently released version 2.0 and introduced a new mechanism for extension. There are now two types of extensions: reviewed/hosted extensions and external extensions. The former (e1) gets its own chunk of schema.org namespace: e1.schema.org. All items in that extension are created and maintained by their own creators. The latter means a third party to create extensions specific to an application. Extensions to location and time might be a topic for the Earth science community in the near future.

(2) GCIS Ontology: GCIS is such a nice project it is incorporated several state-of-the-art Semantic Web methods and technologies. The provenance representation in GCIS means it is not just a static knowledge representation. It is more about what are the facts, what do people believe and why. In the ontology engineering for GCIS we also see the collaboration between geoscientists and computer scientists. That is, conceptual model came first, as a product that geoscientists can understand, before it was bound to logic and ontology encoding grammar. The process can be seen as within the scope of semiology. We can do good jobs with syntax and semantics, and very often we will struggle with the pragmatics.

(3) PROV-ES: Provenance of scientific findings is receiving increasing attending. Earth science community has taken a lead on working of capturing provenance. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) PROV standard provide a platform for Earth science community to adopt and extend. The Provenance – Earth Science (PROV-ES) Working Group was initiated in 2013 and it primarily focused on extending the PROV standard, and tested the outputs with sample projects. In the PROV-ES hackathon at the summer meeting, Hook Hua and Gerald Manipon showed more technical details of with PROV-ES, especially about its encodings, discovery, and visualization.

(4) Entity linking: Jin Guang Zheng and I had a poster about our ESIP 2014 Test bed project. The topic is about linking entity mentions in documents and datasets to entities in the Web of Data. Entity recognition and linking is a valuable work in works with datasets collected from multiple sources. Detecting and linking entity mentions in datasets can be facilitated by using knowledge bases on the Web, such as ontologies and vocabularies. In this work we built a web-based entity linking and wikification service for datasets. Our current demo system uses DBPedia as the knowledge base, and we have been collecting geoscience ontologies and vocabularies. A potential future collaboration is to use the ESIP ontology portal as the knowledge base. Discussion with colleagues during the poster session shows that this work may also be beneficial to works on dark data, such as pattern recognition and knowledge discovery from legacy literature.

(5) Big Earth Data Initiative: This is an inter-agency coordination work for geo-data interoperability in US. I would copy paste a part of the original session description to show the detailed relationships about a few entities and organizations that were mentioned: ‘The US Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) Data Management Working Group (DMWG) is an inter-agency body established under the auspices of the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). DMWG members have been drafting an “Earth Observations Common Framework” (EOCF) with recommended approaches for supporting and improving discoverability, accessibility, and usability for federally held earth observation data. The recommendations will guide work done under the Big Earth Data Initiative (BEDI), which provided funding to some agencies for improving those data attributes.’ It will be nice to see more outputs from this effort and compare the work with similar efforts in Europe such as the INSPIRE, as well as the global initiative GEOSS.

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GYA, CODATA-ECDP and Open Science

June 7th, 2015

During May 25-29, 2015, the Global Young Academy (GYA) held the 5th International Conference for Young Scientists and its Annual General Meeting at Montebello, Quebec, Canada. I attended the public day of the conference on May 27, as a delegate of the CODATA Early Career Data Professionals Working Group (ECDP).

The GYA was founded in 2010 and its objective is to be the voice of young scientists around the world. Members are chosen for their demonstrated excellence in scientific achievement and commitment to service. Currently there are 200 members from 58 countries, representing all major world regions. Most
GYA members attended the conference at Montebello, together with about 40 guests from other institutions, including Prof. Gordon McBean, president of the International Council for Science and Prof. Howard Alper, former co-chair of IAP: the Global Network of Science Academies.

GYA issued a position statement on Open Science in 2012, which calls for scientific results and data to be made freely available for scientists around the world, and advocates ways forward that will transform scientific research into a truly global endeavor. Dr. Sabina Leonelli from the University of Exeter, UK is one of the lead authors of the position statement, and also a lead of the GYA Open Science Working Group. A major objective of my attendance to the GYA conference is to discuss the future opportunities on collaborations between CODATA-ECDP and GYA. Besides Sabina, I also met Dr. Abdullah Tariq, another lead of the GYA Open Science WG, and several other members of the GYA executive committee.
The discussion was successful. We mentioned the possibility of an interest group in Global Open Science within CODATA, to have a few members join both organizations, to propose sessions on the diversity of conditions under which open data work around the world, perhaps for the next CODATA/RDA meeting in Paris or later meetings of the type, to collaborate around business models for data centers, and to reach out to other organizations and working groups of open data and/or open science, etc.

GYA is such an active group both formed and organized by young people. And I was so happy to see that Open Science is one of the four core activities that GYA is currently promoting. I would recommend ECDP and CODATA members to see more details of GYA on the website and propose future collaborations to promote topics of common interest on open data and open science.

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Open Science in an Open World

December 21st, 2014

I began to think about a blog for this topic after I read a few papers about Open Codes and Open Data published in Nature and Nature Geoscience in November 2014. Later on I also noticed that the editorial office of Nature Geoscience made a cluster of articles themed on Transparency in Science (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/focus/transparency-in-science/index.html), which really created an excellent context for further discussion of Open Science.

A few weeks later I attended the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting at San Francisco, CA. That is used to be a giant meeting with more than 20,000 attendees. My personal focus is presentations, workshops and social activities in the group of Earth and Space Science Informatics. To summarize the seven-day meeting experience with a few keywords, I would choose: Data Rescue, Open Access, Gap between Geo and Info, Semantics, Community of Practice, Bottom-up, and Linking. Putting my AGU meeting experience together with thoughts after reading the Nature and Nature Geoscience papers, now it is time for me to finish a blog.

Besides incentives for data sharing and open source policies of scholarly journals, we can extend the discussion of software and data publication, reuse, citation and attribution by shedding more light on both technological and social aspects of an environment for open science.

Open science can be considered as a socio-technical system. One part of the system is a way to track where everything goes and another is a design of appropriate incentives. The emerging technological infrastructure for data publication adopts an approach analogous to paper publication and has been facilitated by community standards for dataset description and exchange, such as DataCite (http://www.datacite.org), Open Archives Initiative-Object Reuse and Exchange (http://www.openarchives.org/ore) and the Data Catalog Vocabulary (http://www.w3.org/TR/vocab-dcat). Software publication, in a simple way, may use a similar approach, which calls for community efforts on standards for code curation, description and exchange, such as the Working towards Sustainable Software for Science (http://wssspe.researchcomputing.org.uk). Simply minting Digital Object Identifiers to codes in a repository makes software publication no difference from data publication (See also: http://www.sciforge-project.org/2014/05/19/10-non-trivial-things-github-friends-can-do-for-science/) . Attention is required for code quality, metadata, license, version and derivation, as well as metrics to evaluate the value and/or impact of a software publication.

Metrics underpin the design of incentives for open science. An extended set of metrics – called altmetrics – was developed for evaluating research impact and has already been adopted by leading publishers such as Nature Publishing Group (http://www.nature.com/press_releases/article-metrics.html). Factors counted in altmetrics include how many times a publication has been viewed, discussed, saved and cited. It was very interesting to read some news about funders’ attention to altmetrics (http://www.nature.com/news/funders-drawn-to-alternative-metrics-1.16524) on my flight back from the AGU meeting – from the 12/11/2014 issue of Nature which I picked from the NPG booth at the AGU meeting exhibition hall. For a software publication the metrics might also count how often the code is run, the use of code fragments, and derivations from the code. A software citation indexing service – similar to the Data Citation Index (http://wokinfo.com//products_tools/multidisciplinary/dci/) of Thomson Reuters – can be developed to track citations among software, datasets and literature and to facilitate software search and access.

Open science would help everyone – including the authors – but it can be laborious and boring to give all the fiddly details. Fortunately fiddly details are what computers are good at. Advances in technology are enabling the categorization, identification and annotation of various entities, processes and agents in research as well as the linking and tracing among them. In our 06/2014 Nature Climate Change article we discussed the issue of provenance of global change research (http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n6/full/nclimate2141.html). Those works on provenance capture and tracing further extend the scope of metrics development. Yet, incorporating those metrics in incentive design requires the science community to find an appropriate way to use them in research assessment. A recent progress is that NSF renamed Publications section as Products in the biographical sketch of funding applicants and allowed datasets and software to be listed (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13004/nsf13004.jsp). To fully establish the technological infrastructure and incentive metrics for open science, more community efforts are still needed.

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