Lots of “open goodness” in the AU/NZ region

January/February are exciting months for open [data|research|science|access] proponents in our region – by which I mean Australia and New Zealand.

First, we’ve enjoyed a speaking tour by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, during which he discussed the benefits of open data several times. I was able to attend two events in Sydney in person and a third, linux.conf.au, by video stream. The events were the work of many people but in particular, Pia Waugh. Go follow her on Twitter, now.

Next – I wish I had been able to get to this one – the Open Research Conference on February 6-7, University of Auckland. I’m enjoying the high-quality live stream right now. Flying the flag for Sydney are Mat and Alex.

Not strictly under the “open” umbrella but worth a mention anyway: software carpentry is in town, February 7-8, just up the road from me at Macquarie University. Looking forward to hearing some reports from that.

I’d be more than happy with the unlinked data web

Visit this URL and you’ll find a perfectly-formatted CSV file containing information about recent earthquakes. A nice feature of R is the ability to slurp such a URL straight into a data frame:

quakes <- read.csv("http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/gis/qed.asc", header = T)
colnames(quakes)
# [1] "Date"      "TimeUTC"   "Latitude"  "Longitude" "Magnitude" "Depth"
# number of recent quakes
nrow(quakes)
# [1] 3135
# biggest recent quake
subset(quakes, quakes$Magnitude == max(quakes$Magnitude, na.rm = T))
#            Date    TimeUTC Latitude Longitude Magnitude Depth
# 2060 2010/02/27 06:34:14.0  -35.993   -72.828       8.8    35

I hear a lot about the “web of data” and the “linked data web” but honestly, I’ll be happy the day people start posting data as delimited, plain text instead of HTML and PDF files.

Two more signs

  1. The blogosphere is alight with the announcement from Science Commons of a protocol for implementing open access data. This Technorati search with keywords “science commons open data” throws up 528 posts, many of which are relevant. I suggest that you also follow developments via Deepak’s blog and links therein.

    Now, this is great news for those of us who care about all things open – open access, “open science”, open data; and people who follow developments in web technology. However, we need to make it relevant and accessible to the people who matter: interested research scientists with the question “how can I make my data more accessible”. Those people are unlikely to subscribe to the W3C mailing list. So rise up blogging community – start writing short, clear informative posts in non-specialist language, aimed at explaining to a bench scientist why they should care and what they should know concerning this protocol.

  2. John Hawks has had a busy week following his major publication on accelerated evolution. He writes:

What I most want to point out is that the discussion on blogs is at a very high level — people are reading the paper with much more precision than I have ever experienced in the peer review process

If I could have one wish come true in 2008, it would be for more scientists in academia to realise that so-called “non-traditional” modes of publishing, debate and communication are of equal value (for me personally, higher value) to the old ways that they insist on defending, regardless of the evident flaws in those ways.