Four short links: 7 December 2009

Touchscreen++, Data Analysis, Open Science and Social Software, Google Makes Good

  1. 3D Touchscreens — Japan Science & Technology Agency and researchers at the University of Electro-communications have made a “photoelastic” touch screen. The LCD emits polarized light, picked up by a camera over the screen. Transparent rubber on the screen deforms when pressed, and the camera can pick this up. Interesting hack, though it’s not yet a consumer-grade product.
  2. Eureqa — open source tool for detecting equations and hidden mathematical relationships in your data. Its primary goal is to identify the simplest mathematical formulas which could describe the underlying mechanisms that produced the data. (via pigor on delicious)
  3. Science in the Open, It Wasn’t Supposed To Be This Way — Cameron Neylon on the leaked climate email messages as a trigger for open data. One of the very few credible objections to open research that I have come across is that by making material available you open your inbox to a vast community of people who will just waste your time. The people who can’t be bothered to read the background literature or learn to use the tools; the ones who just want the right answer. […] my concern is that in a kneejerk response to suddenly make things available no-one will think to put in place the social and technical infrastructure that we need to support positive engagement, and to protect active researchers, both professional and amateur from time-wasters. Sounds like an open science call for social software, though I’m not convinced it’s that easy. Humans can’t distinguish revolutionaries from terrorists, it’s unclear why we think computers should be able to.
  4. EtherPad Back Online Until Open Sourced — Google bought collaborative real-time EtherPad and the team will work on Google Wave, but the transition plan was “you can’t create more documents, and it’ll all go away in March”. Grumpiness ensued. Everyone makes mistakes online, but the secret is to listen, acknowledge the mistake, and correct your course.
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  • No name

    Smart point about distinguishing between revolutionaries and terrorists. I think scientists use the phrase “time wasters” indiscriminently to dismiss people they don’t want to engage. As we’ve seen from these emails, they’ve got a political agenda and they can’t dismiss it. But they want to claim all of the advantages that come from being supposedly independent and fair. Sigh.

  • Cameron Neylon

    Nat, don’t disagree at all, nor with the commenter above. We can’t (and won’t) be able to distinguish between terrorists and revolutionaries. But that wasn’t quite what I meant to say. I think what we can do is to get better at building systems that distinguish between people who engage positively with content and those that just react and encourage and support the positive interaction. Youtube versus StackOverflow comments for example. We’ve learnt a lot about how to build these things over the past few years.

    The scientific process works well, in the end, at pulling out the revolutionaries so as long as we’re making that process more efficient I think we’ll be ok over the long term. That doesn’t solve the political problem of course but that’s a separate issue. What I hope we can do on a shorter term scale is build out systems that take the lessons from the consumer social web to find comments and objections that are worth giving serious attention to, because the people who are giving them have earnt the right to be taken seriously. We need these anyway because we need them as effective filters of the deluge of data we’re getting.

    So yes, we need to build social software for scientists, whether professional or amateur, to contribute. I agree it won’t be easy but I think there are some good pointers out there about how to proceed.