Posted tagged ‘open science’

The most important Indian ornithology paper recently written!

2 February 2011

“Which is the most important Indian ornithology paper recently written?”

I was asked this by a young M.Sc. guy recently. I was taken aback because I had never encountered such an intelligent question from a young post-graduate before. But there he was – and they all looked at me for an answer. So, after a little thought, without going through hundreds of articles on Indian natural history that I should have before answering, anyway answered “In my opinion, Taking Indian Ornithology into the Information Age By L. Shyamal.”

 

An image from "Opinion: Taking Indian ornithology into the Information Age"

Now, Shyamal, no matter how militant he may be in his opinions, shuns the limelight and will undoubtedly disagree with me and be displeased by my actions.

At this stage, I will also disclose to you that he is a close friend of some years, a collaborator with me on Wikipedia and that I have met him a number of times.

But that is besides the point. Shyamal, putting it plainly and simply, is both a theorist and practitioner of open science. Read Shyamal’s views on Open science here on this very blog. And the article I have named above.

As far as practicing Open Science is concerned,  he is the single most prolific editor to Wikipedia on Indian natural history and biodiversity. He has an edit count of 34,176 edits to Wikipedia which is quite fantastic. His edit contributions can be found here.   Besides this, to date, Shyamal has donated, improved and uploaded 5200 free images to Wikimedia Commons which can be seen here 250 images at a time..

Shyamal is creative. He uses Inkscape and makes small, simple, easily printed scalable drawings of birds : cheap to print & places them under a free license on Wikimedia Commons. Find svg birds by Shyamal and many others over here. Use them as you wish – even commercially.

 

Free bird svg images by Shyamal

Shyamal spends a lot of time finding obscure details about Indian natural history and adding them to Wikipedia. He finds old material and loads them to http://www.archive.org. He has uploaded a large number of the iconic Newsletter of Birdwatchers of Dodda Gubbi post days on that site.

Shyamal created BirdSpot and provided that data and that dataset under a free license. This was the first common man’s implementation of a GIS in India.

But none of that matters. No matter how good or bad he is, it still wouldn’t matter.

Because, in this paper Shyamal has objectively analysed for us where we are, what needs to be done and what is the way to go ahead. The quality of science displayed in articles and actions of our birding community increases in bits and spurts and then takes a step back in time before returning to its jerky progress. We need to face the demon and berate it soundly. Then alone can we make it cower. And this we can do only if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Shyamal’s paper is honest in this manner. I’m deliberately not commenting more on the paper. It is for you to read and see where both Shyamal and I am coming from.

Now, doling paeans of praise on a friend is no longer politically correct. But faujis are not politicians. We call a spade a spade.

So, don’t believe me, abhor my parochial actions, disdain the personal depths I have probed but read for yourself and see!

 

The Onlooker

Images: All freely licensed. Click image to reach source.

On why FOSS is vital for science…

26 November 2009

From this article on Journal on Science and World Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2007

An Africa institution of higher learning has ‘got’ FOSS exactly right. Any hope for Indian centres of learning?

So why is open source software so vital for science? In the introduction to Voices from the Open Source Revolution, Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark Stone point out:

Science is ultimately an Open Source enterprise.

The scientific method rests on a process of discovery, and a process of justification. or scientific results to be justified, they must be replicable. Replication is not possible unless the source is shared: the hypothesis, the test conditions, and the results. The process of discovery can follow many paths, and at times scientific discoveries do occur in isolation.

But ultimately the process of discovery must be served by sharing information: enabling other scientists to go forward where one cannot; pollinating the ideas of others so that something new may grow that otherwise would not have been born .

Where scientists talk of replication, Open Source programmers talk of debugging.

Where scientists talk of discovering, Open Source programmers talk of creating.

Ultimately, the Open Source movement is an extension of the scientific method, because at the heart of the computer industry lies computer science.

This shared method benefits both the industrial and scientific communities. Science gains a ready platform for distributing its ideas, and industry gains a wellspring of freely available ideas and innovations from which to construct new products and services. Ultimately, the free availability of information will help Africa to become competitive in the global economy, as well as turn the focus of technological innovation towards the real problems of the continent.


The only reasons I can think why Indian institutions aren’t already doing something like this en masse, in what appears to be a no-brainer as far as the nation’s best interests are concerned, are mediocrity, ignorance, carelessness, incompetence, laziness and greed!

Read more about this issue on this blog here:

Image credits – Tux (authors Larry Ewing, Simon Budig and Anja Gerwinski) & Gnu (Aurelio A. Heckert) from Wikimedia Commons. Free Software Foundation’s ‘join us’ tag from their web site, under fair use!

Freedom? Still awaited!

15 August 2009

Yesterday we celebrated the freedom of our nation. That was freedom  from dominion by an alien race. We wanted to be free – to prosper, to further ourselves, to contribute to our nations and mankind, to become better people.

the first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

The first stamp of independent India, released on 21 Nov 1947

We did not become free to serve new overlords – in any field, whether it was public life or in private life; definitely not in our love for learning, discovery and engagement with the world around us. In 62 years, more than a lifetime for many of us, we continue to be restrained. Simple things like Knowledge, which should be free, continue to elude us; nay to be denied us by artificial constructs such as copyright, by bureaucracies, by small, selfish people who are blind to the larger picture, the enormous latent possibilities in the hearts and minds of the common Indians and who do not consider the common man to be a stakeholder in anything which affects him.

“Satyameva jayate”

may be interpreted as

“The truth shall set you free.”

So on this day, I celebrate freedom. Free practices, free knowledge, free thinking.

I have placed this blog under free licenses explicitly.

The content on this blog is free!

Free to be used by you, quoted, modified, transformed and even used commercially.

But with the proviso that the freedom which I give you has to be passed on to your stakeholders and you cannot take that freedom away as they can’t  in their turn. And my copyright (or more accurately, my copyleft) needs to be acknowledged by attribution.

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

Wikipedia - free content in the real world!

The exact terms can be seen from the links on the two licenses (take your pick of one) in the license widget in the right panel on the blog main page.

This blog already has an impassioned plea for Open science by Shyamal.

‘Open science’ is actually a weasel word, mistakenly used by me to title his op-ed; he had not given one to his piece.

We actually need ‘Free science’.

Just as Free software is a more powerful concept than Open source software, so is ‘Free Science’ more ‘free’ than ‘Open Science’.

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

Richard Stallman - The Prophet for Freedom in content!

“Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. “Don’t bother us with politics,” respond those who don’t want to learn.”

Richard Stallman, circa 2000.

Just as open source is a compromise between the commercial world of big business and the FLOSS community, ‘Open Science’ envisages an avatar of traditional science where you and I are valued stakeholders.

But my wish is the same that Capt Vikram Batra, Param Vir Chakra (posthumous) paraphrased after the capture of  Pt 5140 p –

Yeh dil mange more!

Yeh dil mange more!

Science should not be just ‘open’ but also should be ‘free’

It should be free to all stakeholders to better their lives and their heritage. Clean green technology freely available to all for saving our planet. Technology to better our lives also free, if not to all concerned, but definitely to those who can’t feed their bellies every day. Science free from the top to the bottom – from academia to the hoi-polloi, from the technocrat to the consumer, from the practioner to the enthusiast.

Maybe, its a pipe dream, but I wish…..

If you find this rant mis-placed in the context of India’s freedom, I allow Stallman to reply for me once again. Only replace the word ‘software’ with the word ‘science’…

“It’s clear that other problems such as religious fundamentalism, overpopulation, damage to the environment, and the domination of business over government, science, thought, and society, are much bigger than non-free software. But many other people are already working on them, and I don’t have any great aptitude or ideas for how to address them. So it seems best for me to keep working on the issue of free software. Besides, free software does counter one aspect of business domination of society.”

—–

God bless all who gave their tomorrow for our today!

Credits – Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote.