You are browsing the archive for Science.

First Paper to Link CO2 and Global Warming, by Eunice Foote (1856)

- October 3, 2019 in carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, chemistry, Eunice Newton Foote, first person to discover global warming, global warming, Science, women scientists, women's rights

The first paper to link carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and earth heating.

Flash Mob: Revolution, Lightning, and the People’s Will

- November 9, 2017 in allegory, Art & Illustrations, benjamin franklin, Culture & History, Featured Articles, french revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, Joseph Priestley, lightning, Maximilien Robespierre, power, revolution, Science, symbolism, thunderbolt

Kevin Duong explores how leading French revolutionaries, in need of an image to represent the all important “will of the people”, turned to the thunderbolt — a natural symbol of power and illumination that also signalled the scientific ideals so key to their project.

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel’s Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

- October 24, 2017 in aart form in nature, Art & Illustrations, biology, ceylon, Darwinism, ernst haeckel, eugenics, Featured Articles, Kunstformen der Natur, race, racism, Science, Science & Medicine, sri lanka

An early promoter and populariser of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel was a hugely influential figure of the late 19th century. Bernd Brunner looks at how a trip to Sri Lanka sowed the seeds for not only Haeckel’s majestic illustrations from his Art Forms in Nature, for which he is […]

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel’s Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

- September 13, 2017 in Art & Illustrations, art forms in nature, biology, ceylon, Darwinism, ernst haeckel, eugenics, Kunstformen der Natur, race, racism, Science, Science & Medicine, sri lanka

An early promoter and populariser of Darwin's evolutionary theory, the German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel was a hugely influential figure of the late 19th century. Bernd Brunner looks at how a trip to Sri Lanka sowed the seeds for not only Haeckel's majestic illustrations from his Art Forms in Nature, for which he is perhaps best known today, but also his disturbing ideas on race and eugenics.

Joint Submission to UN Data Revolution Group

- October 16, 2014 in Featured, News, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Government Data, Open Government Partnership, Open Knowledge, open-government, OpenSpending, Policy, Science, United Nations, www foundation

The following is the joint Submission to the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution from the World Wide Web Foundation, Open Knowledge, Fundar and the Open Institute, October 15, 2014. It derives from and builds on the Global Open Data Initiative’s Declaration on Open Data.

To the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution

Societies cannot develop in a fair, just and sustainable manner unless citizens are able to hold governments and other powerful actors to account, and participate in the decisions fundamentally affecting their well-being. Accountability and participation, in turn, are meaningless unless citizens know what their government is doing, and can freely access government data and information, share that information with other citizens, and act on it when necessary. A true “revolution” through data will be one that enables all of us to hold our governments accountable for fulfilling their obligations, and to play an informed and active role in decisions fundamentally affecting their well-being. We believe such a revolution requires ambitious commitments to make data open; invest in the ability of all stakeholders to use data effectively; and to commit to protecting the rights to information, free expression, free association and privacy, without which data-driven accountability will wither on the vine. In addition, opening up government data creates new opportunities for SMEs and entrepreneurs, drives improved efficiency and service delivery innovation within government, and advances scientific progress. The initial costs (including any lost revenue from licenses and access charges) will be repaid many times over by the growth of knowledge and innovative data-driven businesses and services that create jobs, deliver social value and boost GDP. The Sustainable Development Goals should include measurable, time-bound steps to:

1. Make data open by default

Government data should be open by default, and this principle should ultimately be entrenched in law. Open means that data should be freely available for use, reuse and redistribution by anyone for any purpose and should be provided in a machine-readable form (specifically it should be open data as defined by the Open Definition and in line with the 10 Open Data Principles).
  • Government information management (including procurement requirements and research funding, IT management, and the design of new laws, policies and procedures) should be reformed as necessary to ensure that such systems have built-in features ensuring that open data can be released without additional effort.
  • Non-compliance, or poor data quality, should not be used as an excuse for non-publication of existing data.
  • Governments should adopt flexible intellectual property and copyright policies that encourage unrestricted public reuse and analysis of government data.

2. Put accountability at the core of the data revolution

A data revolution requires more than selective release of the datasets that are easiest or most comfortable for governments to open. It should empower citizens to hold government accountable for the performance of its core functions and obligations. However, research by the Web Foundation and Open Knowledge shows that critical accountability data such as company registers, land record, and government contracts are least likely to be freely available to the public. At a minimum, governments endorsing the SDGs should commit to the open release by 2018 of all datasets that are fundamental to citizen-state accountability. This should include:
  • data on public revenues, budgets and expenditure;
  • who owns and benefits from companies, charities and trusts;
  • who exercises what rights over key natural resources (land records, mineral licenses, forest concessions etc) and on what terms;
  • public procurement records and government contracts;
  • office holders, elected and un-elected and their declared financial interests and details of campaign contributions;
  • public services, especially health and education: who is in charge, responsible, how they are funded, and data that can be used to assess their performance;
  • constitution, laws, and records of debates by elected representatives;
  • crime data, especially those related to human rights violations such as forced disappearance and human trafficking;
  • census data;
  • the national map and other essential geodata.
    • Governments should create comprehensive indices of existing government data sets, whether published or not, as a foundation for new transparency policies, to empower public scrutiny of information management, and to enable policymakers to identify gaps in existing data creation and collection.

 3. Provide no-cost access to government data

One of the greatest barriers to access to ostensibly publicly-available information is the cost imposed on the public for access–even when the cost is minimal. Most government information is collected for governmental purposes, and the existence of user fees has little to no effect on whether the government gathers the data in the first place.
  • Governments should remove fees for access, which skew the pool of who is willing (or able) to access information and preclude transformative uses of the data that in turn generates business growth and tax revenues.

  • Governments should also minimise the indirect cost of using and re-using data by adopting commonly owned, non-proprietary (or “open”) formats that allow potential users to access the data without the need to pay for a proprietary software license.

  • Such open formats and standards should be commonly adopted across departments and agencies to harmonise the way information is published, reducing the transaction costs of accessing, using and combining data.

4. Put the users first

Experience shows that open data flounders without a strong user community, and the best way to build such a community is by involving users from the very start in designing and developing open data systems.

  • Within government: The different branches of government (including the legislature and judiciary, as well as different agencies and line ministries within the executive) stand to gain important benefits from sharing and combining their data. Successful open data initiatives create buy-in and cultural change within government by establishing cross-departmental working groups or other structures that allow officials the space they need to create reliable, permanent, ambitious open data policies.
  • Beyond government: Civil society groups and businesses should be considered equal stakeholders alongside internal government actors. Agencies leading on open data should involve and consult these stakeholders – including technologists, journalists, NGOs, legislators, other governments, academics and researchers, private industry, and independent members of the public – at every stage in the process.
  • Stakeholders both inside and outside government should be fully involved in identifying priority datasets and designing related initiatives that can help to address key social or economic problems, foster entrepreneurship and create jobs. Government should support and facilitate the critical role of both private sector and public service intermediaries in making data useful.

5. Invest in capacity

Governments should start with initiatives and requirements that are appropriate to their own current capacity to create and release credible data, and that complement the current capacity of key stakeholders to analyze and reuse it. At the same time, in order to unlock the full social, political and economic benefits of open data, all stakeholders should invest in rapidly broadening and deepening capacity.
  • Governments and their development partners need to invest in making data simple to navigate and understand, available in all national languages, and accessible through appropriate channels such as mobile phone platforms where appropriate.
  • Governments and their development partners should support training for officials, SMEs and CSOs to tackle lack of data and web skills, and should make complementary investments in improving the quality and timeliness of government statistics.

6. Improve the quality of official data

Poor quality, coverage and timeliness of government information – including administrative and sectoral data, geospatial data, and survey data – is a major barrier to unlocking the full value of open data.
  • Governments should develop plans to implement the Paris21 2011 Busan Action Plan, which calls for increased resources for statistical and information systems, tackling important gaps and weaknesses (including the lack of gender disaggregation in key datasets), and fully integrating statistics into decision-making.
  • Governments should bring their statistical efforts into line with international data standards and schemas, to facilitate reuse and analysis across various jurisdictions.
  • Private firms and NGOs that collect data which could be used alongside government statistics to solve public problems in areas such as disease control, disaster relief, urban planning, etc. should enter into partnerships to make this data available to government agencies and the public without charge, in fully anonymized form and subject to robust privacy protections.

7. Foster more accountable, transparent and participatory governance

A data revolution cannot succeed in an environment of secrecy, fear and repression of dissent.
  • The SDGs should include robust commitments to uphold fundamental rights to freedom of expression, information and association; foster independent and diverse media; and implement robust safeguards for personal privacy, as outlined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • In addition, in line with their commitments in the UN Millennium Declaration (2000) and the Declaration of the Open Government Partnership (2011), the SDGs should include concrete steps to tackle gaps in participation, inclusion, integrity and transparency in governance, creating momentum and legitimacy for reform through public dialogue and consensus.


This submission derives and follows on from the Global Open Data Inititiave’s Global Open Data Declaration which was jointly created by Fundar, Open Institute, Open Knowledge and World Wide Web Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation with input from civil society organizations around the world. The full text of the Declaration can be found here:

The Wellcome Library’s Top 10 Open Images

- June 10, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, medicine, Public Domain, Science, Wellcome Library

CURATOR’S CHOICE #11: CATHERINE DRAYCOTT FROM THE WELLCOME LIBARY Catherine Draycott, head of Wellcome Images, gives a run down of the Top 10 most downloaded images from the collection of more than 100,000 that the Wellcome Library made available under an open license earlier this year. On 20th January this year, over 100,000 images from […]

The Wellcome Library’s Top 10 Open Images

- June 3, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, medicine, Public Domain, Science, Wellcome Library

Catherine Draycott, head of Wellcome Images, gives a run down of the Top 10 most downloaded images from the collection of more than 100,000 that the Wellcome Library made available free from restrictions earlier this year.

Writing his Life through the Other: The Anthropology of Malinowski

- January 22, 2014 in anthropology, Articles, bronislaw malinowski, diary, ethnography, History, Science, trobriand islands

Last year saw the works of Bronislaw Malinowski – father of modern anthropology – enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Michael W. Young explores the personal crisis plaguing the Polish-born anthropologist at the end of his first major stint of ethnographic immersion in the Trobriand Islands, a period of self-doubt glimpsed through entries in his diary – the most infamous, most nakedly honest document in the annals of social anthropology.

Love your data – and let others love it, too

- January 16, 2014 in Digital Science, figshare, knowledge sharing, Open Data, Reproducibility, research, Science

[This post is also available in French. Ce billet est également disponible en français.] The Projects initiative, a Digital Science endeavour, provides a desktop app that allows you to comprehensively organize and manage data you produce as research projects progress. The rationale behind Projects is that scientific data needs to be properly managed and preserved if we want it to be perennial: there’s indeed a worrisome trend showcasing that every year, the amount of research data being generated increases by 30%, and yet a massive 80% of scientific data is lost within two decades. Projects and open science data sharing platform figshare published an impressive and pretty telling infographic on science data preservation and chronic mismanagement [scroll down to see it]. What struck me looking at these numbers is neither the high throughput data production nor the overall funds it requires – 1,5 trillion USD spent on R&D! – but the little to no information on public policies aimed at solving the problem. It’d be a mistake to consider that access to the research paper is enough. A publication is a summary, a scholarly advertisement of sorts, able in no way, alone, to substitute to raw data, protocol and experiment details, and – when applicable – software source code used to run the analysis. Yet, while we are an ever-increasing number of journals open up scientific publications, researchers and their respective institutions trail in involvement when it boils to sharing science data. Such laziness is not harmless: the infographic highlights that 80% (!) of datasets over 20 years old are not available. Such a delirious figure is still just the tip of the iceberg: every time we produce data, we also generate metadata (“data about data”) and protocols (descriptions of methods, analysis and conclusions). Guess what, as files quickly pile up and are mismanaged, all that stuff falls into oblivion. This also means that data we produce today is not accessible to the broader research community. A large amount of experiments give negative or neutral results, thus not allowing to confirm the work hypotheses. This is an issue on two counts. First, we waste our time, energy and brains on redoing what colleagues have done and which does not work. But since data is not shared, we joyfully dive into writing grants to ask for money to eventually produce data that will not end up in a paper… as publications today only account for ‘positive’ results (i.e., supporting the work hypotheses). Second issue around with-holding data sharing is the impossibility to repeat or even statistically verify a study being presented. This has a name: reproducible research. We have all heard about the shocking outcome of Glenn Begley’s survey of 53 landmark cancer research publications (hint: only six out of them could be independently reproduced). The infographic below shows a bit different yet frightening picture: 54% of the resources used across 238 published studies could not be identified, making verification impossible. Sticking the knife in deeper, the infographic also highlights that the number of retractions due to error and fraud has grown fivefold since 1990. This complements another estimation showing that the number of retracted papers has grown tenfold since 2000. We need public policies to the rescue. Funding bodies and various other institutions start to demand improved data management, tells the infographic, citing the “Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding” and the NIH, MRC and Wellcome Trust (these now request data management plans be part of applications). The EU has also committed to consider data produced in publicly-funded studies as ‘public data’, thus aligning its sharing with other public sector data in a broader Open Data move. The European Commission thus launched a Pilot on Open Research Data in Horizon 2020. P.S. And in case you need additional incentives for data sharing, have a read. P.P.S. From what I’ve heard, people at Projects are interested to hear your views on data availability and how you manage your own data, so get in touch on Twitter @projects. Love your data - practise safe scienceLove your data – practise safe science This post is cross-posted on The Aggregator.

Alfred Russel Wallace: a Heretic’s Heretic

- October 30, 2013 in Alfred Russel Wallace, Articles, charles darwin, evolution, intelligent design, Religion, Science

On the centenary of his death, Michael A. Flannery looks back at how Alfred Russel Wallace's take on evolution, which radically reintroduced notions of purpose and design, still speaks to us in a post-Darwin world where problems of sentience and of the origin of life remain, some would argue, as intractable as ever.