[Open-climate-science] Open environmental science - more than data and software?
r.muetzelfeldt at ed.ac.uk
Tue Mar 29 09:12:37 UTC 2011
Dear open-climate-science members,
I've just joined this list, and would like to explore just how much
common ground there is between your objectives and mine.
Until 2002 I was a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Institute of
Ecology and Resource Management (now part of GeoSciences). I took
early retirement in order to pursue my research interests in the field
of ecological and environmental modelling and more generally on the
computer-based representation of research knowledge, without the usual
hassles of academic life. My main focus is on the methodology of
modelling - the tools we can use for making it easier to build and share
models, and making models more transparent.
I am also concerned that ecological and environmental science still
largely operates in a Web 1.0 way (or even pre-Web). Symptomatic of
- The continued reliance on the journal paper and the scientific
conference as the main vehicles for communicating research results (when
there are tools available for representing the 'web of knowledge' using
computer-based knowledge representation approaches (see  below); and
much more can be done to build up engagement in conference topics before
a conference, and in facilitating follow-up afterwards).
- The low level of use of social media both within research programmes,
and by the leading research organisations, e.g. NERC.
- The lack of agreed standards for undertaking research and sharing
outputs (probably the greatest area of overlap between my interests and
those of this group).
- The continued implementation of models as computer programmes
(typically Fortran), rather than their representation in a declarative
format (e.g. XML). This is rather technical, and may not mean much to
you if you are not familiar with Fortran and/or XML, but, believe me,
there is a huge difference in the ability of others to inspect models
between the two approaches - there is little point in achieving open
publication of code if the code itself is virtually impenetrable.
I would like to take the forthcoming Plant Under Pressure 2012
conference (http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/) as a focus for
developing these ideas in a practical, functioning way.. The idea would
be to set up a parallel activity, independent of the main conference
stream, which would be largely web-based. (In Edinburgh terms, it's the
Fringe rather than the main Festival!) It could start, say, 6 months
before the conference itself, and allow both discussion and
collaborative research both on the conference topics and of other topics
not covered by the conference. Importantly, it would carry on after
the conference finishes, and have the specific goal of working to
actual, implementable solutions. There would be a strong emphasis on
new ways of managing research knowledge (e.g. mind maps, topic maps,
semantic web, and online knowledge-based systems). It could go under
the label OpenPUP, or possible OpenPUP2012.
I am aware that the overlap with this group is only partial, for two
- You seem to have an emphasis on accessibility of (other people's)
research data and tools, rather than on the other topics mentioned above
(see  below); and
- You seem to focus on *climate* science, rather than the wider issues
of the future of human society on this planet.
Both comments may reflect a distorted impression of your interests, but
in any case I am sure that there is sufficient overlap for us to carry
Is it OK if I put up a page on your wiki (at
http://wiki.okfn.org/wg/climatescience), along the above lines?
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh
 This whole question of how we represent knowledge, and in particular
the need to move from prose to symbolic knowledge-representation
methods, is I guess something that is relevant across the board within
the Open Knowledge movement. I have not yet checked out what, if any,
activities are going on within OKFN in this area.
 This emphasis on data and software tools seems to apply to the term
'open science' in general. I find this rather regrettable, since -
coming to this as an outsider who wants to see the practice of science
as a whole become more open - this seems to exclude a number of
The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
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