So what's the story? Well, firstly we didn't really know what we meant by open science. We were, at the start, motivated by two factors. One, a strong sense that open science is a Good Thing. And, second, a rather more pragmatic idea that the project might be helped through having a pool of citizen scientists who would help us with interpretation of the results. We knew that we would generate a lot of data and also believed we would benefit from fresh eyes looking over that data, uncoloured - as we are - by the weight of hypotheses and high expectations. We thought we could achieve this simply by putting the whole project, live - as it happens - on the web.
Sounds simple: put the whole project on the web. And now that I put it like this, hopelessly naive. Especially given that we had not budgeted for the work this entails. So, this became a DIY activity fitted into spare moments using free Web tools, in particular Google Sites.
the robots and experimental infrastructure took about two years). Then, by July 2010 I started to give some thought to uploading the experimental data to the project web. But it took me until late October to actually make it happen. Why? Well it took a surprising amount of effort to figure out the best way of structuring and organising the experiments, and the data sets from those experiments, together with the structure of the web pages on which to present that data. But then even when I'd decided on these things I found myself curiously reluctant to actually upload the data sets. I'm still not sure why that was. It's not as if I was uploading anything important, like Wikileaks posts. Perhaps it's because I'm worried that someone will look at the data and declare that it's all trivial, or obvious. Now this may sound ridiculous but posting the data felt a bit like baring the soul. But maybe not so ridiculous given the emotional and intellectual investment I have in this project.
But, having crossed that hurdle, we've made a start. There are more data sets to be loaded (the easy part), and a good deal more narrative to be added (which takes a deal of effort). The narrative is of course critical because without it the data sets are just meaningless numbers. To be useful at all we need to explain (starting at the lowest level of detail):
- what each of the data fields in each of the data files in each data set means;
- the purpose of each experimental run: number of robots, initial conditions, algorithms, etc;
- the overall context for the experiments, including the methodology and the hypotheses we are trying to test.
Will anyone be interested in looking inside our data, and - better still - will we realise our citizen science aspirations? Who knows. Would I be disappointed if no-one ever looks at the data? No, actually not. The openness of open science is its own virtue. And we will publish our findings confident that if anyone wants to look at the data behind the claims or conclusions in our papers they can.
Postscript: See also Frances Griffiths' blog post Open Science and the Artificial Culture Project