[Open-climate-science] Open environmental science - more than data and software?

Robert Muetzelfeldt 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.

My background:
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 
this is:

- 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 [1] 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 [2] 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 
on talking.

Is it OK if I put up a page on your wiki (at 
http://wiki.okfn.org/wg/climatescience), along the above lines?

Best wishes,
Robert Muetzelfeldt

Honorary Fellow
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh
Research Director
Simulistics Ltd

[1] 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.

[2] 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 
important facets.

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

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