Meeting Highlights Use Of Open Data In Science, Health And Sustainable Development 18/09/2013 by Alessandro Marongiu for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. At the end of a two-day conference in Switzerland, open knowledge experts emphasised the role of open data in strengthening science findings’ credibility, fostering medical research and enhancing sustainable development. The 2013 Open Knowledge Conference, an annual event organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation, aimed at understanding existing trends with a specific focus on open data use in new areas and sectors. The event was held in Geneva on 17-18 September. Professors and scientists participating in the conference stressed how the development of new technologies has modified the way scientific experimentation is carried out. In her presentation, Victoria Stodden, assistant professor of statistics at Columbia University, described the main changes brought by new technologies in the scientific community. “First, there is an enormous amount of data, on the scale of terabytes. Second, computing performances allow us to ask questions and seek answers we were not able to seek in the past. Third, software and codes in digital recording play an increasingly important role in scientific research,” she said. Due to these changes, the traditional foundation of science, based on the notion of reproducibility of results in order to root out errors and assimilate the knowledge, has come under threat, she argued. Particularly, scientific publications often do not share the data sets, software and codes used in a specific research, hampering the possibility to replicate the calculations for verification and validation of the results. “A publication is not the scholarship itself, it’s an advertising of the scholarship. The scholarship is the complete set of data and codes behind it, and in articles often data and code are not made available,” Stodden said. “The new situation calls for an updating of the scientific method,” she claimed while calling on scientists to make their data available. John Ellis from CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and professor of theoretical physics at King’s College London, echoed Stodden’s argument. “Science belongs to everybody and CERN is open because we try to answer to universal questions,” he said. Ellis said that all of CERN’s results are published and available for free. He praised the longstanding support of his organisation for open software and CERN’s initiative for open hardware licences. As an example of CERN openness, Ellis reminded the audience that “the World Wide Web was invented at CERN almost twenty-five years ago and we decided to let it [be] completely free.” However, opening up scientific data may raise some concerns, particularly under the perspective of intellectual property rights. “As you access code and data, the role of copyright is not something to be ignored,” Victoria Stodden said. “US law says that original expressions of ideas fall under copyright by default. This is a barrier for me. To use a code I have to ask permission, it is actually not legal to just grab a code even if you put it on the web,” she added. She called on scientists to give up their IP rights for the sake of reproducibility and ask just for attribution when others use their data. She also said that an action is needed to realign the IP framework with longstanding scientific norms. Health and Sustainable Development: New Territory For Open Data The impact of new technologies and the accumulation of large amount of data are not confined to scientific research. Indeed, the decreasing costs of mapping individual genomes led to the emergence of a new field in the open knowledge scenario: the concept of open health. In this regard, Ernst Hafen, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, explained that the evolution of health products and health research is increasingly tending towards finding tailor-made solutions for each patient. “The one-size-fits all model is not enough anymore,” he said. According to Hafen, the dropping costs of genome sequencing will allow individuals to easily obtain the mapping of their own genome in the next years. This evolution will make it possible to build health databases able to compare millions of individual genomes and find innovative solutions to specific health needs. “Progress in health is very much about engagement of citizens. We need data sets from large amounts of individuals, hence individual participation is essential for future research,” he said. However, the decision to allow access to personal medical data should remain with individuals. “Our personal data is a new asset class and some estimate this asset will value 1 trillion Euros in 2020. We are all billionaires of DNA sequences,” Hafen said. The economic value of genome sequences means that “empowerment [is achieved] by giving citizens control over their personal health data.” In this regard, he suggested setting up a cooperative model based on the concept that the more people share, the more benefits they will receive. According to Hafen, members should decide with whom they want to share their data and how to control and manage personal information. Finally, the cooperative model would empower people allowing them to decide how to invest the revenues in research, information and education, he said. Meanwhile, experts agreed that open data may have successful application in the field of sustainable development. Jack Townsend, from the University of Southampton, explained that opening up climate data could increase transparency and improve our understanding of human interactions with the environment. According to Townsend, open data can help in releasing timely and granular information on greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel subsidies. In addition, an open data environment that favours the diffusion of scientific information would enhance sustainable innovations and the launch of open data applications may increase the efficient use of resources. “Releasing an application on city transports may have more returns than spending millions in transport infrastructure,” he argued. Experts also agreed that open knowledge may prove particularly useful in post-conflict situation and developing countries. Stephen Kovats, founder of the Berlin-based r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation, gave the example of South Sudan, where all state infrastructure has to be built and the open knowledge community is actively engaging to promote the use of open software for several future South Sudan institutions. “It is easier to promote open software in countries where big financial resources are lacking. The open source model creates participatory models that are sustainable” by definition, Kovats said. In this context, the World Bank, Open Knowledge Foundation and Open Data Institute today announced the launch of a 3-year project aimed at assisting policymakers and citizens in developing countries to understand and exploit the benefits of open data. The initial budget of the project will be of USD1.25 million for the first year. “Open data has already brought extraordinary benefits to people in rich countries, helping them to understand and improve the world around them. This project will take the benefits of open data to the developing world. It will explore and extend the frontiers of open data and harness its benefits for poverty reduction,” commented Amparo Ballivian, lead economist at the World Bank. In conclusion, Claudia Schwegmann, founder of OpenAid and member of Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, presented a portal aimed at promoting effective and sustainable land governance. “Many countries have no legal answer to the question of ‘Who owns this piece of land?’ You have no incentive to invest in the land in a sustainable way if there is ownership uncertainty,” she explained. “The effect is land degradation and low production.” Open data on land may help clarify ownership issues and dramatically reduce the transaction costs of land registration procedures, allowing a more sustainable use of land, she said. The Open Knowledge Conference interventions are available here. 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