The chemlambda collection is a social hack, here’s why

 

People from data deprived places turn to available sources for scientific information. They have the impression that Social Media may be useful for this. Reality is that it is not, by design.

But we can socially hack the Social Media for the benefit of Open Science.

Social Media is not fit for Open Science by design. They are Big Data gatherers, therefore they are interested not in the content per se, but in the metadata. The huge quantity of metadata they suck from the users tells them about the instantaneous interests and social links or preferences. That is why cat pics are everywhere: the awww moment is data poor but metadata rich.

Open Science has as aim to share scientific data and rigorous validation means. For free! Therefore Open Science is data rich. It is also, by design, metadata poor, because at least if a piece of research is not yet popular, there is not much interaction (useful for example to advertisers or to tech companies or govenrnments) to be encoded in
metadata.

The public impression is that science is hard and many times boring. There are however many people interested in science, like for example smart kids or creative people living in data deprived places. There are so many people with access to the Social Media so that, in principle, even the most seemingly boring science project may gather the attentions of tens of thousands of them. If well done!

Such science projects may never see the light of the media attention because classical media works with big numbers and very low level content. Classical media has still to adapt to the new realities of the Net. One of them is that the Net people are in such a great number that there is no need to adapt a message for a majority of people which is not, generically, interested in science.

Likewise, Social Media is by design driven by big numbers (of metadata, this time). They couldn’t care less about the content provided that it generates big data exhaust (Zuboff, Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization).

They can be tricked!

This was the purpose of the chemlambda collection: beautiful animations, data rich content hidden behind for those interested. My previous attempts to use classical channels for Open Science gave only very limited results. Indeed, the same is true for a smart kid or a creative person from Africa.

If you are not born in the right place, studied at the right university and made the right friends then your ideas will not spread through the classical channels, unless your
ideas are useful to a privileged team. You, smart kid or creative person from Africa, will never advance your ideas to the world unless they are useful first not to you, but to privileged people from far away places. If this happens, the best you can expect is to be an useful servant for them.

So, with these ideas and experiences, I tried to socially hack the Big Data gatherers. I presented short animations (under 10s) obtained from real scientific simulations. I chose them among those which are visually appealing. Each of them can be reproduced and researched by anybody interested via a GitHub repository.

It worked. The Algorithmic Gods from Google decided to make chemlambda a featured collection. I had more than 50 000 followers and more than 50 millions views of these scientific, original simulations.

To compare, another collection, dedicated to censorship on social media, had no views!

I shall make, acording to my access to data, which is limited, an analysis of people who saw the collection.

It seems to me that there were far more women that men. Probably the algorithms used the prior that women, stupid as they are, are more interested in pictures than text. Great, let’s hack this stupid prior and turn it into a chance to help Women access to science 🙂

There were far more people from Asia and Africa than from the West. Because, of course, they are stupid and don’t speak the language (English), but they can look at the pictures. Great, let’s turn this snobbery into an advantage, because they are the main public which could benefit from Open Science.
The amazing (for me) popularity of this experiment showed that there is something more to dig in this direction!
Science can be made interesting and remain rigorous too.

Science and art are not as different as they look, in particular for this project the visual arts.

And the chemlambda project is very interesting, of course, because it a take on life at molecular level done by a mathematician. The biologists need this, not only mathematical tools, but also mathematical minds. Biologists, as the Social Media companies, sit on heaps of Big Data.

Finally, there is the following question I’d like to ask.
Scientific data is, in bits, a tiny proportion of the Big Data gathered everyday. Is tiny, ridiculously tiny.

Question: where to put it freely, so that it stays free and is treated properly, I mean as visible and easy to access as a cat pic? Would it be so hard to dedicate something like 1/10 000 of the servers used for Big Data in order to keep Open Science alive? In order to not let it rot along with older cat pics?

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