Fraud fighters wanted in the Middle East

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Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

[Originally published on OpenDemocracy]

I was recently approached by a scholar from the American University of Sharjah (UAE) who asked me to edit a draft of a research paper of his which needed“rephrasing and unifying”, a common request by non-native English speakers prior to submission in a peer-reviewed journal.

Having agreed on fee and timeline, I edited and returned the paper. The scholar’s response was astounding: “when I checked your rephrased document on a plagiarism detection site, it indicated that 87% is copied…the aim is to reach 10% at most”. His expectation, as it turns out, was for me to rewrite the paper, concealing plagiarised chunks of text. Though I had noticed entire paragraphs in irreproachable English, I had assumed co-authorship, not academic theft. Replying that I did not expect to devote my time to “forging research papers,” I was not surprised when payment was withheld.

This all took place while news made the headlines of a miracle cure developed by the Egyptian army for HIV and hepatitis C – today remaining in the anthology as ‘KoftaGate’ –  someone needed to address this culture of unethical scientific behaviour.

Forgery, plagiarism and other plagues

Plagiarism is one of the most widespread manifestations of scientific misconduct: it happens everywhere. When misconduct is identified, the publication is generally retracted. An independent watchdog launched in August 2010, Retraction Watch, has become the go-to institution for remarkable work in this field.

In 2012, a close examination of more than 2,000 retracted biomedical and life-science research articles showed that two-thirds were removed because of proven or suspected misconduct. Plagiarism accounted for nearly 10% of retractions. Fraud or suspected fraud, e.g. photoshopping images and “arranging data” to support one’s claims are other types of forgery. Last but not least, there are also scientists so fond of their own work that they practice duplicate publishing.

Follow-up studies make it clear that misconduct can happen at any stage of a career, from the trainee to the senior researcher. Some blame the “publish or perish” rules that govern research. Others explain it by limited resources: if a lab does not have enough money to sustain its projects, then it might as well resort to crafting what is deemed necessary to publish the study in the hopes of getting better funding. Whatever the reason, however, lies and copy-paste habits are unethical and harm science as they influence research trends, waste public funds and can have a direct impact on people’s lives.

Misconduct also spans across all scientific domains. Some experts evenbelieve that as much as 90% “of all [archeological] artefacts and coins sold on internet auctions as genuine are nothing but fakes.” Among antiquities forgery cases fall the largely overlooked traffic of real but stolen artefacts, a long-lived practice found to occur in many countries across the Middle East including embattled Syria.

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Gendered Quantified Self: Privacy Meets Technology Meets Health

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Last month, I spoke at FLOSSIE 2013 addressing gendered quantified self and challenges we face when our sensitive data are massively tracked and collected by wide range of entities in times of generalized surveillance.

“FLOSSIE brings together FLOSS women developers, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers, digital artists and social innovators for an exciting mix of talks, spontaneous discussions and open workshops. Flossie 2013 brings the benefits of open thinking to artist and entrepreneurs and the insights of diverse innovators to FLOSS development.”

My slides are below. FLOSSIE didn’t have video/audio recording available, reflexions on the topic are scarce and many people have explicitly asked me to make these slides meatier, I’ll be writing my thoughts shortly. Stay tuned 🙂

Science, ‘whores’ and dissent

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First published as an op-ed at Al-Jazeera English.

Privately owned publications and governments threaten to cut to the bone of intellectual freedom in science.

Last Friday, popular science magazine Scientific American (SciAm) removed a blog post by a black female scientist and blogger discussing a recent professional exchange and the issue of integrity.

The incident – which SciAm justified by claiming that her article was not “scientific enough” – highlights the insidious forms of censorship in the science and research worlds.

So what exactly happened? Danielle Lee, a scientist and blogger at SciAm-hosted blog Urban Scientist, had been approached by a staff member of Biology-Online.org – referred to as “Ofek” – to contribute an article. When Lee asked for compensation details and learned she’d be writing for free, she kindly turned down the offer. In response, Ofek called her a “whore”. Consequently, Lee wrote a post on her SciAm-hosted blog addressing integrity and misconduct in science. Shortly afterwards, the post was removed without any explanation or prior notice.

Following SciAm’s seemingly arbitrary decision, a few scientists and bloggers started drawing attention to this bizarre development. Some noticed that Biology Online is SciAm’s partner; others (including yours truly) re-blogged the original post so everyone could read it. SciAm started getting a lot of heat. Pressing questions and critical debate followed, but SciAm’s editor-in-chief Mariette di Christina responded with two magnanimous tweets. The first one explained that pulling the post down is due to insufficient scientific content; the second one claimed the partnership between SciAm and Biology Online has nothing to do with the removal.

So on the face of it, a woman is called a “whore” in a professional setting, and then denied a voice in this environment to discuss her (mis)treatment. Uh oh, SciAm. I saw the regular blame-the-victim rhetoric on Twitter, too.

But wait: This isn’t the first time SciAm has removed content on the basis of “not [being] ‘sciencey’ enough”. Back in August 2013, the MIND Guest Blog published a post on sexual harassment female scientists encountered at work. The post was removed. At that time, Karen Stollznow, a prominent linguist, wrote about years of harassment escalating in job-related retaliation and even physical assault. SciAm removed her guest post (that is, content published after editor’s approval) without prior notice. When she asked about the rationale, it emerged that Stollznow’s employer involved their legal department in the matter, and in doing so potentially intimidated SciAm into action.

Let’s say, SciAm got swamped under a sudden wave of timidity. But have a look at a Slate editor’s note on a piece entitled “Skepticism and Secularism Have a Serious Sexual Harassment Problem”, describing Stollznow’s experience. The piece, available thanks to the WebArchive, tells of traumatising stalking and aggression by a fellow male scientist that began in 2009. Apparently, such an account “did not meet [Slate‘s] standards for verification and fairness, and we have taken it down”, says the editor’s note. Really, Slate?

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Scientific American screws it up big time, or censorship in science

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UPDATE: To sum up the story and highlight SciAm’s (lack of) reaction, I wrote this for Medium.

Earlier today, I spotted Dr. Isis’s #batsignal about @DNLee5’s delirious encounter with biology-online.org editor. DNLee is a biologist who was called a “whore” by Biology Online editor who asked her to blog for free, a gig she kindly refused. Later on, DNLee5 wrote a response over on her blog hosted by Scientific American, but the post was pulled down. According to Dr. Isis, DNLee’s happy to have the original post reproduced, so here it is below, with the original images and screenshots that I hosted here (they linked to SciAm’s servers, but since SciAm removed the post, they may as well remove the pics, too, for the sake of consistency, of course.).

Here also a link to the Storify I curated gathering quite a few outrageous reactions. And — more and more disappointingly — the deafening silence SciAm crew is being burying itself in.

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Nature Middle East’s weekly science dose (Oct 4 — Oct 10)

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Brought to you first at the Nature Middle East’s ‘House of Wisdom’ blog.

Have you heard of reptiles that swim? Such animals used to exist back in the Late Cretaceous period (that is, 98–66 million years ago). Mosasaurs were discovered back in 1764 and it became clear quite quickly that they were actually marine predators, but the debate still continues on how exactly they swam. A part of the scientific community argues they moved like snakes. Bringing robust analysis and proofs, a recent study demonstrates that Mosasaurs were actually skilled swimmers, achieving swim speed comparable to sharks.

On a different and more to-the-ground note, researchers have identified a better curative approach for acute leukaemia, the blood cancer that claims hundreds of lives every year. A comparison between more than 1,000 samples revealed that a drug treatment gives much better remission results and improves survival rates than total body irradiation. Continue reading

[Announcement] OKCon Open & Citizen Science hackday: submissions

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I’ve already announced the OKCon ‘Open & Citizen Science satellite event’. As you may remember, we launched idea submissions several days ago. The detailed descriptions are below. You can vote for your favourite one and join us geeking out next Thursday, Sept 19. Don’t hesitate to get back to us either via Twitter (@MaliciaRogue, @stefankasberger) or via mail.

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[Announcement] Open and Citizen Science in the heart of Europe

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Stefan Kasberger from OKFn Austria and myself are organizing this one-day workshop as an OKCon satellite event. Join us!

Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 17:00 @ Centre Universitaire d’Informatique Université de Genève, Auditorium, Ground Floor

Coordinators: Stefan Kasberger (Open Knowledge Foundation Austria) and Rayna Stamboliyska (Open Knowledge Foundation France), in collaboration with Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen CyberlabFrançois Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective)

Hacking science makes us happy. If it makes you happy, too, then, this year’s Open Knowledge Conference is the place to be!

Indeed, OKCon 2013 is where an amazing bouquet of insights from Open and Citizen science will converge. But if you thought there would be only food for the brain, you were wrong. A satellite event will take place on 19 September aiming at giving space for everyone to actually get great things done.

With our friends Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen Cyberlab) François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective), we have come up with a way allowing everyone to take part to this exciting day.

I have an idea!

We know you do. Hence, we have a dedicated form ready for you to submit a short description of what you are keen to work on. You can also indicate what additional competences you need in order to get your project done.

Idea submission will be running from today until 10 September. Every week, we will be updating everyone (through the Open Science mailing list) telling you about the new ideas submitted. In addition, a community call will be scheduled to discuss and narrow down these ideas so that they actually become feasible within one-day long hands-on sprint.

Working together

The idea of the satellite event is to geek out together. On 11 September, we will be publishing a poll with all ideas so that you can be able to vote for the project you want to work on on Day D. Voting will run until 18 September.

Do not forget to bring your favourite geeking gear (laptop, some flavour of mobile device or a fancy notebook in the perfect 1.0 fashion). We will have WiFi, cookies and fun!

The workshop space can accommodate up to 45 people. To sign-up, express your interest in the topic and get in touch with the coordinators please write to openandcitizenscience@okcon.org.

Losing Egyptian heritage: losing tidbits of humankind history

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[This was originally published on Nature Middle East.]

As political unrest continues in Egypt, thieves have attacked a museum in the country’s south, stealing or burning evidence of thousands of years of history.

While Egypt focused on violent outbreaks in the rest of the country, raiders broke into the halls of the Malawi National Museum and ransacked its collections on two consecutive nights, stealing or destroying almost all of its artefacts.

The museum, 300 Km sound of Cairo in the Upper Egypt city of Minya, is a little-known cultural centre, but is home to a rich and diverse collection that spans Egyptian history from Greco-Roman to the 18th Dynasty eras. Many of the antiquities housed in the museum date back to the eras of the pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti; some are animal mummies and statues dedicated to the worship of the Egyptian god Thoth, a deity represented with the head of an ibis.

Looters are widely believed to be supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. But Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist at Humboldt University of Berlin, closely following the events, blamed the looting on “people’s greed under political and religious cover.”

Archaeologists and museum workers have started to identify and list the stolen objects, believed to number around 1,040. According to preliminary evaluations, 1040 of the 1089 artefacts that the museum housed have so far been reported missing. The Facebook page “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force”, launched by Hanna in June in response to a growing number of thefts from Egyptian heritage sites, has an updated album of images of the stolen items.

“All small pieces of the Malawi museum are completely looted, and all of them are from the Amarna Period,” says Hanna. The Amarna Period art is distinctive from more conventional Egyptian art styles, with artists of the era opting for a more relaxed, realistic portrayal than the traditional stylized and rigid formality of previous dynasties.

According to reports, in the second raid, the museum was set alight and objects not stolen on the first night were badly burnt. Objects too heavy to carry out of the museum, such as wooden and stone sarcophagi, have been severely damaged. “Two mummies were burnt down, but fortunately two others could be saved as well as a huge number of fragments,” says Hanna.

Yesterday, curators from the Malawi National Museum confirmed that five painted wooden sarcophagi, two mummies and a papyrus handwritten in Demotic, as well as a collection of broken ancient statues, have been sent for restoration.

Once archaeologists complete the investigations and finalize a list of stolen objects, it will be distributed to all Egyptian ports to thwart any smuggling attempts. All missing artefacts will be put on UNESCO’s red list to avoid being smuggled and sold on the international antiquities market. “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force contacted INTERPOL immediately, independently of the Ministry of Antiquities, and alerted the International Council of Museums and the International Committee for Egyptology,” adds Hanna.

The Ministry of Antiquities also announced a campaign to retrieve stolen objects, offering compensation for those who will return the artefacts. The al-Ashmounein storehouse near the museum is receiving the returned antiquities, but so far, only two objects have been returned, according to Hanna.

Vandalism of museums is frequently reported in times of major political disturbances. Additionally, looting of Egyptian archaeological sites has been on the rise as the black market for antiquities grows.

Thoughts on Open Innovation: The Rebirth of the Citizen Scientist

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This is the section in a chapter I co-wrote and edited with friends from the Open Science group of the Open Knowledge Foundation. The chapter is part of the insightful discussion that the Open Forum Academy (OFA) initiated earlier this year, and I am very glad to have been part of it. The chapter, entitled “Bottom-Up Creation of Open Scientific Knowledge”, is part of OFA’s second book, “Thoughts on Open Innovation”. Enjoy the read!

The rebirth of the citizen scientist

In the recent decade, the term ‘citizen science’ has emerged to define public involvement in genuine research projects. Synonym labels such as ‘crowd-sourced science,’ or ‘networked science’ actually represent a new make-up for an old idea: back in 1982, science theoretician Feyerabend advocated the “democratization of science.” Going more decades backwards in time, Thomas Jefferson used to envision weather stations operated by volunteers as a means for people to be informed and educated thus engaging into self-governance, a dynamics that is currently happening for real.

This Jeffersonian idea illustrates one of the basic and most crucial issues with science as it is currently performed (i.e., through research within official institutions): its isolation. Contrastingly, citizen science operates – by design – free of the constraints inherent to such strongly formalized places. Citizen science thus not only relocates science, but it also fosters its growth in the mainstream of society. Non-professionals join professionals, thus co-creating knowledge that makes science an integral part of our daily lives and shared human culture.

Numerous examples can be quoted, each bringing its unique colour and shape to the picturesque landscape of citizen science: from birdwatchers illustrating how times of nesting shift as a consequence of climate change to disaster management, from mapping roadkill accidents to producing one’s fluorescent yoghurt at home. These projects illustrate a shift in public engagement in science: from citizens being solely data collectors to data analysts, visualisers and generators of new hypotheses. The hacker and DIY movements have widely contributed to the emergence of a true citizen science, i.e. one that fully explores human curiosity in a non-professional context.

Citizen science is in its infancy yet its popularity grows exponentially as the concept is modular enough to reach the humanities and social sciences (HSS), generally overlooked by both professionals from the so-called “hard” sciences, and citizens. HSS are studies of human nature at large. They encounter the same issues as the “hard” sciences: popularization and communication, policy questions, and a wide range of ethical concerns. Additionally and similarly, HSS have particular theoretical traditions, methodological orientations, and critical interests. The recent surge of citizen science, greatly assisted by information and communication technologies, thus allows reconsideration of the somewhat artificial categorizations of science domains and naturally involves trans- and interdisciplinarity in scientific practise.

These considerations indicate that one does not need a ten-person lab, multimillion-dollar grants and caffeine-intoxicated PhDs in order to perform brilliant science. Citizen systems of participation aimed at collective problem-solving bring, however, two crucial questions: Is citizen science capable of producing reliable data? What guarantees do we have that it is ethical science?

Engaging huge numbers of citizens in a research project means that massive input is generated. Indeed, volunteers already collect data for scientific projects: how reliable is this? Two decades ago, the USA introduced an amendment prohibiting volunteer-collected data to be used in the US National Biological Survey. In the case of a community-based bird species diversity survey, the estimated number of birds correlated with the changes in numbers of observers. Such examples contribute to a stigma associated with citizen science data, which is sometimes labelled ‘incompetent’ or ‘biased.’ In a recent piece, John Gollan argues the opposite: “a growing body of literature shows that data collected by citizens are comparable to those of professional scientists.” Although data-integrity issues can occur, Gollan highlights an important message: “it’s just a matter of honing in on those particular issues and addressing them if necessary. This can be through training to improve skill sets or calibrating data where possible.”

The second question that springs to mind when opening scientific practice to non-professionals is ethics. Many have voiced concerns about dubious ethical frameworks in various citizen science projects. The project that caused recent kerfuffle was uBiome, a project to sequence human genome entirely supported through crowdfunding. Indeed, research ethics are not something to play with: thus, every project dealing with human subjects requires the review and approval of an independent committee – generally referred to as Institutional Review Board (IRB) – prior to its start. The uBiome citizen science project was thoroughly criticized for seeking IRB review of their protocols only after the crowdfunding campaign was completed. A similarly strict review framework is de rigueur when a research project involves animal subjects. In a recent piece for Scientific American, professional scientist and citizen science advocate Caren Cooper called for community answers to ethical questions as the boundary between hobby practitioners and citizen scientists is too blurry to be defined, and so are the cases in which participants need to be invited to follow official ethics protocols. As also exemplified by numerous reactions from open and citizen science enthusiasts, IRB approval can be a hurdle for citizen scientists.

Cooper’s call-out to the community of both professional and citizen scientists does echo a widely shared concern: is there someone – and if so, who? – to provide oversight of DIYbio/citizen science practices? By design, both professional and citizen scientists need to urgently address this particular and foundational issue. None of us can continue standing passive when a threat is posed to citizen science. It fosters our common culture of curiosity and bridges gaps between people whose personal aims and leisure-time activities converge on a desire to advance research and improve human welfare and communities.

University of Geneva hosts Citizen Cyberscience on PLoS Blogs ‘CitizenSci’

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Citizen Cyberscience was at the honour at the University of Geneva on April 22-23, 2013. I wrote a brief sum-up on it for PLoS Blogs ‘Citizen Science’.

A short time ago, I attended a two-day Citizen Cyberscience workshop at the University of Geneva. As much as the USA and the UK are happy having a vibrant community of citizen scientists, such initiatives in many other European countries are still stuttering. A dedicated workshop in one such country was thus even more exciting. I was there not only because of my interest in the topic but also on behalf of my current position within the EU-funded Citizen Cyberlab’s Synthetic Biology section.

The goal of the workshop was both to get everyone updated on the latest developments of tools for actual citizen science doing and “to work in teams to design and implement a first prototype of a citizen cyberscience project”. The first day was dedicated to talks, and the second day – to hands-on activities. As I recently launched the ‘Open & Citizen Science’ workgroup at the Open Knowledge Foundation France, I am pretty much interested into concrete tools I can use to get people involved into actual projects. Thus, there were two talks of special interest for me: the presentations of Epicollect and Crowdcrafting.

[read more on PLoS Blogs] [View the story “#CitizenCyberscience workshop in Geneva” on Storify]

Living on Mars

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[This op-ed was first published on Al-Jazeera English.]

“Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on Mars.”

It has been nearly nine months now that the Curiosity Rover touched down on Mars. Do not be fooled by its cockamamie drawing penchant: the Rover has identified traces of calcium (often associated with water), and a stream bed. Around Christmas 2012, the NASA team winnowed down rich in clay mudstone containing small amounts of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus – the building blocks of life. The dizzying amount of data Curiosity has been sending is by all accounts changing our perceptions and the possibilities we envision.

The Curiosity Rover’s startling wander on Mars has energised burgeoning – and often private – space tourism endeavours. US millionaire Dennis Tito for instance thinks going to Mars is so simple that it just might work. His Inspiration Mars programme launched back in February 2013 aims at sending a couple of humans on a journey on January 5, 2018, as Mars and the Earth would align on this day which enables a no-fuss trajectory. They will return 501 days later having flown by, but not landed on, Mars. Albeit still scant details about the five-year development plan, NASA hailed “the adventurous spirit of […] citizen explorers”.

Bold minds have come up with Mars One, a non-profit/for-profit hybrid plan to send people settle a colony on Mars. Living on Mars thus does not seem to be a nut job any more. Mars Onewill train people – no specific skills required – for eight years prior to sending them in such a mission. Going to Mars seems within reach, and we are planning to send people to live there. The question is thus not when but how: how do you live on Mars?

The NASA does many things well, and the reason why is because it buries every problem in experts. Recently, the NASA used a crowd-sourced approach to better prepare the Mars Exploration Program. The NASA Space Apps Challenges make no exception: during a two-day (April 20-21) event held simultaneously in multiple cities across the world, experts from all backgrounds gathered to address a total of 50 challenges. These ranged from software to hardware and visualisation challenges, including robotics and citizen science platforms. Paris – where I live – also participated, and I was invited to lead the “Citizen Science” section.

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Retraction Watch suffers DMCA bugs*

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*Ok, trolling away, DMCA itself is a bug.

The background: Retraction Watch is one of the must-follow resources on the web for anyone who is interested in scientific publishing. The blog, maintained and nurtured by Ivan Oransky (Reuters health editor) and Adam Marcus (science journalist and managing editor of Anesthesiology News), is the place for keeping abreast of retractions and corrections in scientific and medical journals. Recently, the blog editors woke up to find out that 10 of the posts have been taken down.

What happened? Apparently, some firm from India copied these 10 posts — relating to Anil Potti, a cancer researcher whose career is imploding as 19 of his papers were already retracted, — then claimed them and filed a DMCA takedown notice. Consequently, the posts were pulled off by WordPress from Retraction Watch… and haven’t been restored thus far.

#ArsenicLife reviews leaked

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You certainly remember the allegedly revolutionary discovery of a bacterium using arsenic instead of phosphate to build its nucleic acids. Arsenic is a poison, and phosphate is mandatory for life. Thus, this alien, “the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic” as presented during the NASA HQs press conference, was supposed to be an alien constituting a paradigm shift, etc. — you remember the hype. The alien that wasn’t one as I already summed up critics shortly after the paper was published (ici en français). The story received an incredible media coverage as well as a huge number of comments from other fellow scientists. A few months after the paper was published in Science, follow-up studies revealed the bacterium does require phosphate — even though in small amounts — to be able to grow and sustain life.
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Science blogging in the Arab world (or the lack thereof)

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This was first posted at Nature Middle East blog ‘House of Wisdom’.

When I started browsing the web for science blogs from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I didn’t think it would be such an adventure. And for a quest, it was one.

I thus started entering keywords in the search engine. The outcome was disappointing: one or two blogs in English popped up. I thought it is because I was only searching in English, but French and Arabic searches did not harbour significantly more results. When I asked friends to point me out my wrongdoing, they just laughed and the comment invariably was: “dear, spare your efforts, there is no such thing like science blogging in the region.”

The blogging culture in the Arab world thus seems to mainly touch opinionated people with a say in politics and economy. There is nothing wrong with this. I’ll spare you a lecture on the importance of social media for changing the society we live in, this has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Loads of bits and ink have also been spilled to demonstrate the importance of science blogging. Given the paucity of science blogs in the Arab World, I guess a reminder is more than useful.

Why writing about science? Reason #1: scientists get to speak directly to the public. Reason #2: lay scientists or enthusiasts engage and keep up to date with developments in various scientific fields. Reason #3: open discussions on research topics are promoted among peers.

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How do we make DIYBio sustainable?

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At December 13th’s SoNYC discussion, hosted by Nature Publishing Group (NPG), a panel will discuss the growth of DIY science, describing some of the opportunities it presents and looking towards the future. The conversation will cover the challenges faced by DIY science enthusiasts, such as safety and accurate data collection, as well as the ways to deal with these concerns within an online world of support. In the build up to this event, the folks at NPG are publishing a mini-series of guest posts from DIY science tinkerers, amateur astronomers, enablers, as well as educators interested in this field. Follow the online chatter using the #DIYSci hashtag and feel free to share your own experiences.

This post is cross-posted on the SpotOn blog and published on SciLogs.com’s ‘Beyond the Lab’.

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Life performs computation much more than you’ve ever thought

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This post was first published on SciLogs.com ‘Beyond the Lab’

“The level of intelligence has been tremendously increased, because people are thinking and communicating in terms of screens, and not in lettered books. Much of the real action is taking place in what is called cyberspace. People have learned how to boot up, activate, and transmit their brains.

Essentially, there’s a universe inside your brain. The number of connections possible inside your brain is limitless. And as people have learned to have more managerial and direct creative access to their brains, they have also developed matrices or networks of people that communicate electronically. There are direct brain/computer link-ups. You can just jack yourself in and pilot your brain around in cyberspace-electronic space.” ― Timothy Leary, Chaos & Cyber Culture

This quote brings up thoroughly discussed concepts of “wired human interactions” and “globalized self,” all describing our relationship to the internet. The quote also highlights another perspective: the ultimate connection as showcased in cyberpunk culture through the “console cowboy” Case in the Neuromancer or the “game pods”, these outlets plugged through bio-ports in Cronenberg’s movie, Existenz. But if this sounded as daring science fiction 10 years ago, achieving this ‘ultimate connection’ now looks feasible in the near future. Research unveiling the hidden potential of DNA in terms of molecular computation has been ongoing for years, and its outcomes are more promising and mind-blowing than one might have imagined. I kindly invite you to join me in a dive into the exciting waters of DNA-based computers.
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No to Cuts: Secure EU Budget for Science

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[En français]

Since yesterday (22 November), the European Union holds a very important meeting: EU heads of states decide upon member states budgets. Naturally, EU budget for research is discussed during this meeting, and its amount for the next seven years is determined (re HORIZON 2020, the follow-up of FP7). Researchers have mobilized to have their voices heard as the European Commission proposes the minimal amount of 80 billion euros for HORIZON 2020 budget, opposing the 100 billion euros suggested by the European Parliament. As the initiative No Cuts on Research highlights it, “for the European Research Council (ERC) that means annual increases of about 6% which is just enough to allow the ERC to consolidate its funding activity and its mission to support European leadership in world class research. It will not be sufficient, though, to launch any new activities.” Fears persist, however, that these 80 billion euros melt down to much less.

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Bacon Fans United: The Pig Genome Sequenced

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This was initially published on Australian Science.

Breeding healthier and meatier piggies has been one of the many scientific challenges of the past decades; creating more reliable models to study human diseases is another. The swine disease model is indeed much better to use when studying human disorders than the (thus far) widely used murine models. Although pigs reproduce slower than mice and are more expensive to take care of, they are more similar to humans when it comes to anatomy and physiology. These common grounds have allowed the development of accurate swine models for diabetes, cystic fibrosis or retinitis pigmentosa (a cause of blindness). In its issue of 15 November, Nature published the fully sequenced and annotated pig genome. This is a major achievement, and will allow considerable progress to be made on both the yummy and the healthy fronts.

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