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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

“Enhancements To WorldWideScience.org Include Arabic Translation, Mobile Capability, and Multimedia Results”

From the OSTI:

Arabic has been added to the suite of translated languages at WorldWideScience.org, bringing the total number of translated languages to 10.

At WorldWideScience.org, your query can be translated into the languages of the search engine’s 80-plus databases and the results can be translated into your preferred language.

In addition, WorldWideScience.org has added a new multimedia search capability, including search of speech-indexed scientific videos from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and CERN. Speech-indexing is provided by the Microsoft Research Audio Video Indexing System (MAVIS).

Also, a mobile version of WorldWideScience.org (http://m.worldwidescience.org) has been launched, which will mark another first in the field of federated search.

What is NOT “science”? Why we have a right to “data” as “evidence”…

Most of us accept a priori the institutionalized distinction between the sciences and the humanities. If asked, we can tick off the names of “disciplines” that are “scientific” and those that constitute “the humanities”… (The “social sciences” are somehow less centrally – more vaguely? — “scientific” — but what do we mean essentially by these distinctions?) [It’s worth noting that novelist CP Snow famously posited this distinction in his Cambridge lecture and subsequent book “The Two Cultures” — ca. 1959.]

We might say that science is “empirical” meaning that it is based upon real, physical evidence? Or perhaps that it’s “inductive” – its theories or “laws” flowing from observations of facts… Or perhaps that it is “quantitative” or “technical” – its conclusions determined by the use of sometimes very complex mathematical logic or by complex apparatus. We might also say that it employs a rigorous methodology that includes exact logical provisions for “falsifiability” [SEE: Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Investigation – and elsewhere], for open peer review – including test by replication – and for validation by demonstration of predictive power… Science also is systematically accretive and depends on careful citation and documentation, building upon itself like a coral reef…

But, it strikes me that any humanist should feel uncomfortable at the assumption that the humanities do not – or are incapable of – meeting these standards at least most of them in most cases? (I’ll leave it to the reader to assess what is most essentially “humanist” – but I often have the uncomfortable sense that the humanities may too often depend for their esoteric authority upon the incoherence of their evidentiary base or upon the imprecision of language or between languages…?)

I attribute “beauty” as a primary motive/value to “the arts”… (The American poet Randall Jarrell once said: “Criticism is the poetry of the prosaic.”) And I heard, anecdotally, a few years ago that the performance artist, Laurie Anderson, was invited to a discussion about “the arts” and “the sciences” and before too long was asking “What are we doing here?” I understood this to be an intuitive recognition that the arts and the sciences are on very similar tracks… I believe that artists are able to operate more spontaneously, intuitively and imaginatively — perhaps more “aesthetically”? but less “systematically” ? Scientists often operate on that same frontier but with the requirement that they test their intuitions using the scientific method and then publicly disclose their “tests”.

“Belief” is ultimately the subjective preserve of the individual — and the institutional preserve of religion. Maintaining the distinction between “belief” and reason (or logic) is a fundamental value of the Enlightenment — particularly in public discourse.

OK so what am I getting at here? And why?

Ultimately all policy — whether “scientific” or not — and all human decisions should be based on logical analysis and on evidence. Both evidence and analysis are susceptible to testing, to evaluation and thus to reasoned discussion. Our civil discourse will always be improved by clear specification of analytical logic and by free, open and effective disclosure of empirical evidence or DATA.

Respecting data there are a series of fundamental criteria that must be satisfied to validate it’s “authenticity” and its probative value (its effectiveness as evidence). As citizens, we have the right to demand that public policy and public decisions be based on well-formed logic and on valid evidence… Discussion that occurs in our public fora should always distinguish between matters of logic and fact and matters of belief.

We’ll pursue these notions – in the context of free, open effective access to data and in the context of science literacy – in future posts…

OSTP wants your comments on Open Access to Federally Funded Research

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is requesting input regarding enhanced access to federally funded science and technology research results, including the possibility of open access to them. Comments can be e-mailed to publicaccess@ostp.gov. The deadline for comments is January 7, 2010. For more, see the Federal Register announcement:

Federal Register: December 9, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 235) Page 65173-65175

On his first day in office, the President issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government that called for an “unprecedented level of openness in government” and the rapid disclosure of one of our nation’s great assets–information. Moreover, the Administration is dedicated to maximizing the return on Federal investments made in R&D. Consistent with this policy, the Administration is exploring ways to leverage Federal investments to increase access to information that promises to stimulate scientific and technological innovation and competitiveness. The results of government-funded research can take many forms, including data sets, technical reports, and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, among others. This RFI focuses on approaches that would enhance the public’s access to scholarly publications resulting from research conducted by employees of a Federal agency or from research funded by a Federal agency.

[Thanks to Charles Bailey for originally posting to DIGLIB list!]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blocks publication of report

Great Lakes: Danger Zones?, By Sheila Kaplan, The Center for Public Integrity, February 7, 2008.

For more than seven months, the nation’s top public health agency has blocked the publication of an exhaustive federal study of environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states, reportedly because it contains such potentially “alarming information” as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates.

The 400-plus-page study, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern, was undertaken by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent bilateral organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on the use and quality of boundary waters between the two countries. The study was originally scheduled for release in July 2007 by the IJC and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the study, which warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.

Excerpts are available on the Center for Public Integrity web site.


US censors Arctic scientists’ findings

US censors Arctic scientists’ findings as it prepares for oil and gas auction, By Daniel Howden, The Independent, January 22, 2008.

The United States has blocked the release of a landmark assessment of oil and gas activity in the Arctic as it prepares to sell off exploration licences for the frozen Chukchi Sea off Alaska, one of the last intact habitats of the polar bear.

Scientists at the release of the censored report in Norway said there was "huge frustration" that the US had derailed a science-based effort to manage the race for the vast energy reserves of the Arctic.

The long-awaited assessment was meant to bring together work by scientists in all eight Arctic nations to give an up-to-date picture of oil and gas exploitation in the high north. In addition to that it was supposed to give policy makers a clear set of recommendations on how to extract safely what are thought to be up to one quarter of the world’s energy reserves.

Speaking yesterday from Tromso, one of the report’s lead authors, who asked not to be named, said: "They [the US] have blocked it. We have no executive summary and no plain language conclusions."…