White House Citizen Science Forum
September 30, 2015
AAAS CEO Rush Holt’s Remarks
Published with permission from AAAS. The video is available here, with Dr. Holt’s remarks running from 43:00-56:30 minutes. Photo source: Library of Congress.
“I’m at the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s premier general science membership organization, and our mission and goal includes integrating science into public policy, into legislation, into the branches of government, into education and culture and society. And citizen science connects directly to our mission and goals.
It’s interesting to note that citizen science is central to our founding. The AAAS was founded in 1848 when some disciplinary scientists got together and abolished their disciplinary societies so they could form a new society to advance science. The word “science” actually was relatively new to the general lexicon at that time, and they believed it was important to speak for science at large, the principles, the fundamentals, of science. And they elected as the first president of the AAAS, William Redfield who was a citizen scientist, who predated the Christmas Bird Count by half a century. You see, he had noticed after a storm went through New England, that trees in different locations were blown down in different directions. And he began to think that maybe storms were cyclonic in the circulation of winds. But of course, the conventional wisdom was that storms just blew through town, and blew in from one side and out the other. So he enlisted hundreds of people along the Atlantic coast and asked them to note when a storm came, at what time did the winds blow in what direction, and, if they had access to a barometer, what was the barometric pressure.
We now know, from every evening’s weathercast, that storms do circulate. And this citizen science activity established modern meteorology. Redfield was not a trained scientist, he was a steamship owner who had steamboats up and down the rivers, the Hudson River and so forth, in the early part of the 19th century. But he knew he could think like a scientist. And he could engage others to think like scientists. That’s the goal of AAAS. To see that society at large integrates science into the society, into the culture, into the policy.
So we certainly support crowdsourcing and citizen science. In our education programs we’ve developed something called “Active Explorer,” which is a smartphone app that’s available to kids to do citizen science—real science, and real education. We have programs to incorporate cooperative programs in the schools to look at meteorology around the world—consistent, I would say, with our founding. We have publicly endorsed the goals and the principles of Senator Coons’ legislation: the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act. Many of our members, of course, have taken part in these celebrated citizen science activities. Looking for gravitational lenses—some of you may know, these are the subtle signatures that you can observe when massive objects block a light source, but bend the light so you can see from Earth the light that would be obscured by those massive objects. Then you can deduce something about the masses of those objects. It requires some pattern recognition that humans are good at. Just as humans are used for typing galaxies, because you have to recognize forms and patterns, and humans do that well.
David Baker published an article in Science about protein folding. The way proteins that are in biological cells fold has a lot to do with how they function, and they try to arrange themselves in a low-energy state but there are lots of possibilities. And David Baker in an article in Science, and subsequently recognized by the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland prize, enlisted, I think, thousands of people, in looking at how the proteins might fold, to find novel foldings that could be important, at least for the understanding of biology, if not for human health.
Recently in Science Advances, the new AAAS open access journal—I recommend it to you by the way, fine journal, Science Advances, online, free to the user—we published an article about work that had been sponsored by the US Geological Survey, of how smartphones can be used in real time to detect and measure and categorize earthquakes. And in fact, it can be done in time to give warnings, because radio waves travel faster than seismic waves, you can then warn cities, of a coming earthquake. And it was a nice article, earlier this year.
We’ve followed all those things at AAAS, and care about them a lot. We hosted at the last annual meeting—by the way, David Baker, the protein biologist, spoke on this subject at our annual meeting—and we also hosted the first meeting of the Citizen Science Association, which is off to a good start now, and I urge you all to get involved in that. Because citizen science has all sorts of advantages. Labor that is distributed in space and time: many hands make light work. But in some cases, many perspectives make work possible. You can accomplish things that individuals cannot accomplish by having multiple points of view, multiple people practicing, contributing to the observations and the experiment.
And of course, it can be conducted without any limitation by region or race or age—it is democratic. Small ‘d’—I don’t want to get partisan here. It can speed discoveries, but actually make possible discoveries—and, by giving you large statistics, it makes it possible to do lots of cross-cutting statistical analysis that might be impossible if you have one researcher collecting data for one experiment.
It’s open. Now this is something that is essential to science. Open communication is one of the principal goals of the AAAS, or of scientists anywhere. The United States is open and democratic not just in our political system, but intellectually as well. We are, back to our foundings, rooted in the scientific way of thinking. Not just Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, the acknowledged scientists. All of the founders were employing a scientific way of thinking: a reverence for evidence, and openness in communication. And I would argue that the benefits from citizen science—and by the way, citizen science doesn’t necessarily mean simply crowdsourcing. When I talked about William Redfield—yes, he was using crowdsourcing in the 1820s, but he was also a practitioner of open, democratic science.
And I think this points out what we stand to gain from the citizen science movement, even more than good scientific discoveries. What we stand to gain is what we badly need today: a reverence for evidence in our population and our policy-makers, an understanding of how science works, an ability to evaluate evidence on one’s own. Scientists, of course, have developed the ability to evaluate evidence. That’s what scientists do.
I think the American traditional ability to think like scientists has eroded somewhat. There are fundamental misunderstandings right now, widespread in our society, about vaccines and public health, about climate change, about evidence-based economics, about biological evolution. Our legislative, and policy, and public behavior suffer because the public forgets that they—ordinary people—have the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to evaluate evidence. They think that science is for the scientists. Specially trained, esoteric scientists. Science is asking questions so they can be answered on the basis of evidence, that ideas can be communicated openly and somebody else can check your work.
Scientists develop a reverence for evidence; citizen scientists do too. And what they learn, and what they can communicate to their sisters and cousins and aunts, and their co-workers and everyone else, is that science is not just for the specialists. Science is accessible to all. It is essential that everyone practice this, at least to some extent, for the sake of our society and our policies. Thank you.”
by Dan Vergano, USA Today, April 10, 2012
And if the government dangles prize money in front of inventors to come up with technology solutions to common problems, it can get results just as in the private sector, suggests a White House report out today that documents its successes in offering “challenge” prizes. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) report follows passage last year of the America COMPETES Act, which streamlined federal research funding rules, and gave agencies wider latitude to solve problems by offering competitive prizes. Prizes such as 2004’s Ansari X Prize, where philanthropists awarded $10 million to the first private spacecraft to reach 62 miles high twice in two weeks, helped inspire the move. …
For full text of the report, visit White House touts ‘challenge’ prizes for tech solutions – USATODAY.com.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has responsibility, in partnership with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), for advising the President on the Federal Research and Development (R&D) budget and shaping R&D priorities across those Federal agencies that have significant portfolios in science and technology. OSTP also has responsibility—with the help of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which is administered out of OSTP—for coordinating interagency research initiatives. It is OSTP’s mission to help develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets that reflect Administration priorities and make coordinated progress toward important national policy goal.
OSTP is pleased to release the following information on the science, technology, innovation, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education components of the President’s FY 2013 Budget. Click here for webcast of budget briefing and PDF of R&D Budget.
The full President’s FY 2013 budget can be found here.
- President’s FY13 Budget Release Info Posted for DOE, NOAA, NSF (geodatapolicy.wordpress.com)
- Analysis of R & D Investments in FY 2012 Appropriations Bill (geodatapolicy.wordpress.com)
by Patricia Moloney Figliola, Congressional Research Service, January 13, 2012
SUMMARY: In the early 1990s, Congress recognized that several federal agencies had ongoing high performance computing programs, but no central coordinating body existed to ensure long-term coordination and planning. To provide such a framework, Congress passed the High-Performance Computing and Communications Program Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-194) to enhance the effectiveness of the various programs. In conjunction with the passage of the act, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released Grand Challenges: High-Performance Computing and Communications. That document outlined a research and development (R&D) strategy for high-performance computing and a framework for a multiagency program, the High-Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program. The HPCC Program has evolved over time and is now called the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, to better reflect its expanded mission.
….the United States will produce a plan that builds on existing initiatives and practices. The plan will be released when the Open Government Partnership is formally launched on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City in September.
As part of the Open Government Initiative, we have benefited from knowledgeable and constructive input from external stakeholders with strong commitments to the principles of open government. The list is long and continues to grow.
We have initiated consultations about the Open Government Plan, beginning with a number of meetings with key external stakeholders, and our consultation is now moving to a new phase in which we seek ideas through this platform, in response to specific questions that we raise through a series of blog posts. We will have a final meeting with stakeholders as we finalize our plan.
Today, we are asking for your thoughts on ideas related to two of the key challenges – improving public services and increasing public integrity:
- How can regulations.gov, one of the primary mechanisms for government transparency and public participation, be made more useful to the public rulemaking process? OMB is beginning the process of reviewing and potentially updating its Federal Web Policy.
- What policy updates should be included in this revision to make Federal websites more user-friendly and pertinent to the needs of the public? How can we build on the success of Data.Gov and encourage the use of democratized data to build new consumer-oriented products and services?
Please think about these questions and send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will post a summary of your submissions online in the future. Your ideas will be carefully considered as we produce our National Plan and continue to engage with you over the next month in future posts on this blog. Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Cass Sunstein is the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
For full text of the article, visit Open Government and the National Plan | The White House.
- White House: An Invitation to Our Latest Open Innovation Ecosystem: Energy.Data.Gov (geodatapolicy.wordpress.com)
- NASA Launches New Open Government Blog (livescience.com)
- New federal CIO wants to close “productivity gap” between private sector, government (arstechnica.com)
- Open Government to Solve Problems: Meet Champions of the Open Innovation Movement (whitehouse.gov)
Posted by Tom Kalil and Regina Dugan, OSTB Blog, June 24, 2011
Today, the President announced the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. While there, President Obama caught a glimpse of what may become the future of Defense manufacturing – a concept vehicle that is a fully functioning next-generation combat support vehicle designed and built by U.S. entrepreneurs at a fraction of the conventional time and cost. … A $10,000 prize competition was launched to design the body of the Crowd-derived Combat-support Vehicle (XC2V). Then the vehicle was built (on an existing Local Motors chassis design) in less than four months and brought from Arizona to the Presidential event in Pittsburgh, arriving ahead of schedule. …
For full text of the article, visit Crowd-Sourcing the Renaissance of Manufacturing | The White House.
- Now this is a cool ride! (whitehouse.gov)
- President Obama Launches Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (whitehouse.gov)
- DARPA XC2V crowd-sourced combat vehicle is complete and awesome (slashgear.com)
- The Crowd Delivers: DARPA’s XC2V Military Vehicle Arrives On Time [Darpa] (gizmodo.com)
- As Obama Hails Darpa, Senate Panel Knifes Its Budget (wired.com)