Open for collaboration

This week (Oct 19th-25th) is Open Access Week, with the theme of ‘Open for Collaboration’. Open Access Week is organised by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, and this year’s theme aims to inspire conversations about how cooperation between stakeholders in the academic enterprise can lead to new forms of collaboration – whether that’s collaboration in research, collaboration in new publishing platforms, or collaboration between academic and policy communities in discussions about how open-access can become the new norm in scholarly publishing.

Here at Geo we are engaged in all of these types of collaboration, and we hope that our blog can become a springboard for new working relationships of all kinds.

In the first instance, the blog can offer authors and readers of our journal the opportunity to reach out to wider audiences. We are publishing blog posts alongside published Geo articles, which can be a great way of drawing attention to the topical relevance of an article, of situating it within wider scientific, political, environmental or cultural debates, or of telling some of the story behind the research which might not have made it into the journal article itself.

Evidence is growing that journal articles which are open access and which are publicised through social media such as blogs and Twitter can receive a greater readership which in turn can lead to more citations.[1] With our blog and social media presence, Geo can help scholars to take advantage of these new routes to wider research engagement (find us on Twitter and Facebook).

We also believe that these new opportunities can help develop connections which, in time, may lead to important new collaborative ventures. While we invite journal authors to comment on their own published papers, we often also seek out comments from interested readers – see for example the posts published along with Sabina Leonelli and colleagues’ paper on encouraging open science (see here and here), or Werner Krauss’ commentary on Mike Hulme’s piece on climate and culture. In this way, we hope that the Geo blog can spark new intellectual conversations and connections, opening up space for new collaborative relationships.

We hope that the Geo blog can also become a site for debating the shifting policy environment of open-access publishing. As open access becomes a key requirement in research assessment exercises in the UK for example, new questions are emerging about how access to open access – through the availability of resources to fund ‘gold’ open access publishing – is distributed across the academic landscape. We’re keen to encourage reflection on these and other issues, so if you have ideas for a post, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Academia is inherently a collaborative enterprise – not just in the shape of research teams and multi-author publications, but in the relationships between individuals, institutions and policies, between researchers and the ‘subjects’ of their research, and in the deep well of knowledge from which we all draw in building our arguments and research programmes (for an example of this collaborative landscape, see this blog post on crowd-sourced geographic information). In making new knowledge, we collaborate with those who have gone before us, and with a diversity of people around us. Journals like Geo are part of this story of changing collaborative relationships within and beyond the academy, and we hope the blog can be a place to tell this story in new and exciting ways.

[1] See for example Gunther Eysenbach, ‘Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact.’, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13, 4 (2011); Melissa Terras, ‘The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment’, Journal of Digital Humanities, 1, 3 (2012).

Being philosophical about crowdsourced geographic information

By Renée Sieber (McGill University, Canada) and Muki Haklay (University College London, UK)

Our recent paper, The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique, started from a discussion we had about changes within the geographic information science (GIScience) research communities over the past two decades. We’ve both been working in the area of participatory geographic information systems (GIS) and critical studies of geographic information science (GIScience) since the late 1990s, where we engaged with people from all walks of life with the information that is available in GIS. Many times we’d work together with people to create new geographic information and maps. Our goal was to help reflect their point of view of the world and their knowledge about local conditions, not always aim for universal rules and principles. For example, the image below is from a discussion with the community in Hackney Wick, London, where individuals collaborated to ensure the information to be captured represented their views on the area and its future, in light of the Olympic works that happened on their doorstep. The GIScience research community, by contrast, emphasizes quantitative modelling and universal rules about geographic information (exemplified by frequent mentioning of Tobler’s first law of Geography). The GIScience research community was not especially welcoming of qualitative, participatory mapping efforts, leaving these efforts mostly in the margins of the discipline.

Hackney mapping

Participatory Mapping in Hackney Wick, London, 2007

Around 2005, researchers in GIScience started to notice that when people used their Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to record where they took pictures or used online mapping apps to make their own maps, they were generating a new kind of geographic information. Once projects like OpenStreetMap and other user-generated geographic information came to the scene, the early hostility evaporated and volunteered geographic information (VGI) or crowdsourced geographic information was embraced as a valid, valuable and useful source of information for GIScience research. More importantly, VGI became an acceptable research subject, with subjects like how to assess quality and what motivates people to contribute.

This about-face was puzzling and we felt that it justified an investigation of the concepts and ideas that allowed that to happen. Why did VGI become part of the “truth” in GIScience? In philosophical language, the questions ‘where does knowledge come from? how was it created? What is the meaning and truth of knowledge?’ is known as epistemology and our paper evolved into an exploration of the epistemology, or more accurately the multiple epistemologies, which are inherent in VGI. It’s easy to make the case that VGI is a new way of knowing the world, with (1) its potential to disrupt existing practices (e.g. the way OpenStreetMap provide alternative to official maps as shown in the image below) and (2) the way VGI both constrains contributions (e.g., 140 chars) and opens contributions (e.g., with its ease of user interface; with its multimedia offerings). VGI affords a new epistemology, a new way of knowing geography, of knowing place. Rather than observing a way of knowing, we were interested in what researchers thought was the epistemology of VGI. They were building it in real-time and attempting to ensure it conformed to existing ways of knowing. An analog would be: instead of knowing a religion from the inside, you construct your conception of it, with your own assumptions and biases, while you are on the outside. We argue that construction was occurring with VGI.

mapping

OpenStreetMap mapping party (Nono photos)

We likewise were interested in the way that long-standing critics of mapping technologies would respond to new sources of data and new platforms for that data. Criticism tends to be grounded in the structuralist works of Michel Foucault on power and how it is influenced by wider societal structures. Critics extended traditional notions of volunteerism and empowerment to VGI, without necessarily examining whether or not these were applicable to the new ‘ecosystem’ of geospatial apps companies, code and data. We also were curious why the critiques focussed on the software platforms used to generate the data (e.g., Twitter) instead of the data themselves (tweets). It was as if the platforms used to create and share VGI are embedded in various socio-political and economic configurations. However, the data were innocent of association with the assemblages. Lastly, we saw an unconscious shift in the Critical GIS/GIScience field from the collective to the personal. Historically, in the wider field of human geography, when we thought of civil society mapping together by using technology, we looked at collective activities like counter-mapping (e.g., a community fights an extension to airport runway by conducting a spatial analysis to demonstrate the adverse impacts of noise or pollution to the surrounding geography). We believe the shift occurred because Critical GIS scholars were never comfortable with community and consensus-based action in the first place. In hindsight, it probably is easier to critique the (individual) emancipatory potential as opposed to the (collective) empowerment potential of the technology. Moreover, Critical GIS researchers have shifted their attention away from geographic information systems towards the software stack of geospatial software and geosocial media, which raises question about what is considered under this term. For all of these reasons and more we decided to investigate the “world building” from both the instrumentalist scientists and from their critics.

We do use some philosophical framing–Borgmann has a great idea called the device paradigm–to analyse what is happening, and we hope that the paper will contribute to the debate in the critical studies of geographical information beyond the confines of GIScience to human geography more broadly.

About the authors:

Renée E. Sieber is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the School of Environment at McGill University. Muki Haklay is Professor of Geographical Information Science in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at University College London. 

Geo: Space for Review

One year from its launch at AC2014, we want to highlight an opportunity to publish reviews in Geo: Geography and Environment. Geo welcomes high quality review papers which provide theoretical, methodological and topical analysis for advanced researchers in the field, or offer critical perspectives that engage cross-disciplinary collaborations, explore policy implications and address issues of global concern (see guidelines for authors). We are especially interested in reviews exploring what it means to assemble communities of knowledge differently and making use of the opportunities for online, open access publication.

We produce reviews in our PhDs, our grant proposals and our publications. To review is to assess and appraise. Reviews have a temporal element: looking back to assess and forward to propose change. A review is also a spatial practice: the review synthesises by defining and appraising a field. Yet, margins can be reinscribed and peripheries created in this process of producing knowledge. Situated epistemological differences may get recast as conceptual or methodological ‘problems’ to be solved by further integration with the theoretical core. There can be good reasons for an emphasis on consensus or periods of normal science. However, postcolonial, feminist and geopolitical critiques attune us to the active processes through which knowledge practices are made marginal and the implications of overly dominant scientific cultures. New practices of review have the potential to make these geographies of knowledge production more visible and so create the conditions for a different circulation and assemblage of ideas.

Innovations across the social and natural sciences, arts and humanities are advancing alternative resources for constructing and disseminating reviews. From the sciences: systematic reviews demonstrate how criteria for inclusion and exclusion can be made more explicit and accountable; large-scale data sets offer opportunities for developing and tracking the back-and-forth of new modes of co-operation; network analysis software can map evolving patterns of inter-citations and the relational transformation of their content. These have not featured widely in geographical reviews, but used reflexively, they have potential across the social and natural sciences. From the digital arts and humanities there are promising experiments in developing online platforms to support collaborative working and review; innovative visualisations of data, concepts and relations; and alternative forms and frames for data mining that value difference in previously unseen data.

Geo: Geography and Environment has space for review and we want to encourage reflection on these spaces of review. We welcome your conversations and all submissions, especially those mapping the ways in which communities of knowledge emerge and creating innovative, interdisciplinary and inclusionary spaces through review.

Gail Davies and Anson Mackay (Co-Editors in Chief)

Geo at #RGSIBG15

The many faces of flooding: Wed 2 Sept, Alumni Auditorium

We are delighted to be sponsoring a public event, ‘The many faces of flooding: Policy, science, and art’, at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Annual International Conference in Exeter this year. This panel debate will explore ways we can effectively, and fairly, build resilience to future flood events. It takes place on Wednesday 2 September (18.45) in the Alumni Auditorium, followed by a drinks reception from 20.00.

If you’re interested in flooding and climate change, you might want to take a look at some of the papers recently published in Geo on these themes:

  • Climate and its changes: a cultural appraisal. By Mike Hulme, doi:1002/geo2.5.
  • Understanding local community construction through flooding: the ‘conscious community’ and the possibilities for locally based communal action By Tracey Coates, doi:1002/geo2.6

The full list of papers published by Geo can be accessed via the journal’s website. We’re delighted that our first publications include papers by physical and human geographers, policy contributions, reviews, digital humanities papers and commentaries. There are some very exciting papers in production too, so watch this space!

Talk to us about publishing in Geo!

Both editors (Gail Davies and Anson Mackay) will be attending the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference next week, so please do come talk to us about publishing open access in Geo. Anson will be at the conference on Wednesday 3 Sept, and Gail will be at Wiley stand (in the Forum) on Wednesday 3 Sept, during session 3 (from 14.40), and on Friday from 9.30 to the end of coffee.

Mapping the “Tribes” of London

By Alex Singleton, University of Liverpool, UK

Our paper, The internal structure of Greater London: a comparison of national and regional geodemographic models, recently published in Geo, explores the geography of where we live to identify 19 distinctive “tribes” that characterise London neighbourhoods. This London Output Area Classification (LOAC) was created in collaboration with the Greater London Authority.

We employ an area classification technique referred to as geodemographics, which are a set of methods that were initially developed in the 1970s (with a model of Liverpool) by Richard Webber. Further details are given our paper, however, in brief, geodemographics are created using a computational technique that compares multiple attributes of areas (e.g demographics, employment, built structures etc.) and places them within clusters aiming to maximise similarity. These are then summarised with names and descriptions.

Within the UK, the Output Area Classification (OAC) is an example geodemographic classification, and was created on behalf of the Office for National Statistics from census data. A classification exists for both 2001 and 2011, and both were built with an entirely open methodology. However, one criticism of national classifications such as OAC is that they do not adequately accommodate local or regional structures that diverge from national patterns, which is an acute issue for London. This can be illustrated with maps of the 2011 OAC for London and the much smaller city of Liverpool.

A map of OAC SuperGroups in Liverpool. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk/#datalayer=oac11_s&layers=BTFT&zoom=11&lon=-2.8564&lat=53.4308

A map of OAC SuperGroups in Liverpool. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

 

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

The problem with the national classification in context of London is evident from these images, with the majority of London classified into 3 clusters. However, the London classification presents a much more variegated picture of London.

 

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

A map of LOAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://loac.datashine.org.uk

The best way to view the classification is on the website:  or you can search for your postcode – you can even let us know if you think we got your neighbourhood wrong!

About the author:

Alex Singleton is Professor of Geographic Information Science at the University of Liverpool. Alex’s Geo paper was co-authored with Paul Longley. Paul is Professor of Geographic Information Science at UCL)

References:

Singleton, A. D., and Longley, P. (2015) The internal structure of Greater London: a comparison of national and regional geodemographic models. Geo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.7.

Further reading:

  • More London-Liverpool Geodemographics Factoids:

In addition to the first UK geodemographics being created for Liverpool by Richard Webber (also a graduate of the University of Liverpool); and this paper a University of Liverpool / UCL collaboration; one of the earliest examples of area classification within the context of London includes the maps of Charles Booth created between 1889-1903 . Charles booth was a Liverpudlian philanthropist. His maps were created through direct observations, and partitioned London into a series of summarising groups which are available to view online.

  • For more on the history of geodmeographics in the US and the UK, see our other open access paper on the subject:

Singleton, A. and Spielman, S. (2013). The Past, Present and Future of Geodemographic Research in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional Geographer, 66(4), 558-567.

A response to Mike Hulme’s “Climate and its changes: a cultural appraisal”

By Werner Krauss, University of Hamburg, Germany

A cultural appraisal of climate and its changes is more than only adding social sciences and humanities to climate research; it fundamentally changes the concept of climate change and, as a consequence, the nature of climate politics. For a long time, culture has been considered as the object of analysis for social sciences as their contribution to successfully implementing science-based climate policies. But Mike Hulme (2015) reminds us in a friendly fashion that climate is more than the statistics of average weather or a system of interconnected spheres and global thresholds. For him, climate is first and foremost an idea that helps to stabilise the relationships between cultures and weather, with climate change as the latest step in the cultural evolution of this idea. His approach fundamentally differs from the conception of global climate politics framed by planetary boundaries and aiming at stabilising climate at 2-or less degrees above preindustrial levels; his cultural appraisal suggests an alternative to the regime of experts and the fantasies about the magic of big data and technological solutions.

The anthropologist Melissa Leach once coined in an interview with the Guardian (2007) the drastic term “bullshit research”. She conducted ethnographic research in hot spots of environmental and climate change in Africa, and there the reality she encountered differed profoundly from scientific scenarios. Explaining the causes of drought, of migration or conflict as a result of climate change was more often than not plain wrong; the causes were complex, the scientific attributions were prematurely drawn from model calculations and not based on empirical evidence. Together with James Fairhead, in their book Misreading Landscapes (1996), they documented how scientists and environmentalists had interpreted desertification in the savannah as a result of deforestation by the indigenous population; in reality, it was indigenous people who had planted the existing trees to fight desertification. This case is not unique, and in many case studies, ethnographers find complex realities instead of simple and mono-dimensional explanations like water- or climate-wars.

While Mike Hulme’s article focuses on making a general argument for introducing culture into the debate about a changing climate, there remains the question of what a no-bullshit research agenda might look like. I doubt that “culture” is an appropriate entity for research; while it makes sense to say that “other cultures” have differing concepts of the culture-weather nexus from our “modern” ones, it is impossible to single out specific cultures as consistent and autonomous, even less to delineate a geographical space identical with cultures (even though in climate research, outdated conceptions like culture areas or climate determinism come to life again). But how to conduct climate research and avoid the pitfalls of current top-down conceptions?

In his article, Mike Hulme introduces the concept of landscape to illustrate the “dyad of climate-culture”. Landscapes are far more than visual or aesthetic representations, nor are they static formations frozen in time and space. Instead, they are social practices and designate the process of making space. They are the result of the interaction of nature, culture and history, but also of symbols, perceptions and imaginaries; or, in the terms of Latour’s actor-network-theory, they are networks animated by human and non-human interactions. It is here where we can observe and critically analyse the transition from land- into climate-scapes, with climate politics as one of the main drivers. Landscapes are political assemblies where matters of concern are decided, such as questions concerning property, access to land or weather-related issues like coastal protection or the transition of former rural areas into emerging energy landscapes. To manage landscapes successfully needs the consent of those who inhabit, shape and administer them; only then, climate change indeed means the “re-negotiation of cultural relationships between humans and their changing weather”, and climate change finally becomes an emergent form of life (Callison 2014).

Thus, Mike Hulme indeed offers an approach to climate change that profoundly differs from the current science-based understanding. There is more to his cultural appraisal than simply adding social sciences and humanities to climate science; the question is about differing ideas of governance, of democracy and about power relations, inside science and in the relation between science, politics and society. Conflicts and frictions are unavoidable where expert regimes rub with societies and cultures; instead of dreaming the impossible dream of stabilizing climate, a cultural appraisal of climate offers insight into the potential of specific landscapes to deal with changing climates.

About the author:

Werner Krauss is currently a fellow at the Cluster of Excellence “CliSAP” (Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction), University of Hamburg, project “Understanding science in interaction” (USI). As a cultural anthropologist, his main focus of research is on human-environment relationships, the anthropology of landscapes and heritage, and climate change. He is an editor of the climate blog Die Klimazwiebel.

References:

Callison, Candis (2014) How Climate Change Comes to Matter: the Communal Life of Facts. Duke University Press.

Fairhead, J. and M. Leach (1996) Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge University Press.

The Guardian (2007) Melissa Leach: The Village Voice. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2007/jul/17/highereducationprofile.academicexperts (accessed 07/17/2015).

Hulme, Mike (2015) Climate and its changes: a cultural appraisalGeo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.5

Response to Leonelli et al (2015): Thinking About “Open” Science

By James Porter, University of Leeds, UK

As a research community we’re being urged to “open” science up like never before. Whether it’s our research results, methods used to make sense of them, or even the underlying raw data itself, everything we do should be made freely and easily accessible to the widest variety of people possible, in the widest variety of ways. Already great strides have been made. As Leonelli et al (2015) note, we’ve seen the push towards “open” access of published research results; “open” data deposited in repositories; and “open” source licenses for research materials (e.g. codes, models etc). All of this edges us closer to the ethos behind “open” science or Science 2.0. That is, to encourage greater equality, widen participation, and stimulate innovation.

Indeed, “open” science has already been heralded as a success. It’s helped scientists find answers to decade old problems. Scientists at the University of Washington struggling to discover the structure of a protein that helps HIV multiply, turned to developers of Foldit, for example. As an online game, players are asked to rearrange the protein to find its most stable configuration, likely to be it’s natural form. Within three weeks over 57,000 players had arrived at an answer, which was published in Nature Structural. None of this would have been possible if that research had remained hidden from public view behind journal subscriptions or locked away in our ivory towers.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that we’re being asked to make things “open” yet constantly reminded to refrain from sharing our findings prematurely. This is due in no small part to a prevailing institutional culture of publish or perish (i.e. REF); the creep to commercialise science and lockdown intellectual property or block rivals (e.g. OncoMouse); and concerns over allowing others to cast doubt or breed misunderstandings (i.e. UEA leaked emails). How science is opened up so that it’s usable and useful, not just available; who should be doing it – early career researchers or established professors; and when research is released – before/after publication; are all tricky questions that researchers must grapple with today. “Sticks” and “carrots”, as Leonelli et al (2015) argue, may incentivise “open” science but it’s unlikely to fully succeed unless the underlying institutional and social norms/values governing research are addressed as well. Many of these institutional and epistemic norms touch on the changing spaces of science engaged by geographers.

The UK government, for instance, has set the Met Office on a course for “open” science. In a pointed rebuttal to critics who claim that it has stifled innovation through a monopoly over meteorological and climate data, the Met Office is set to “open” things up. The once fine distinction between data used for non-commercial purposes and commercial ones is no more. Today, a new policy breaks data into one of three categories (open, research and managed), which dictates who can access it and what they can do with it (not everyone can be trusted, apparently). Making the data fit into these categories ignores its hybrid, contested, and evolving nature, where it may start life as one thing but over time change as more things are added. Efforts to make the data manageable not only reflect politics to do with their construction and circulation but also reflect the tension faced by the Met Office to give away and make money from its data/services.

Much of the logic behind the “open” science movement shares similarities with neoliberal thinking. Will making raw data freely available via repositories reduce inequalities between the data-rich and data-poor, or simply allow those with the resources, capacity and infrastructures to increase them? Will the ability to reproduce, verify, and challenge research results bolster the status of science, a la Robert Merton, or make it harder to differentiate rigorous science from junk science, making it easier to sell for PR purposes? And does opening up research results, data and materials, constitute a valuable endeavour in itself, or one that’s only realisable when equipped with the right expertise?

Yes “open” science is certainly welcome in exposing a whole raft of cultural practices (and politics) we take for granted in academia today and helps us respond to the needs of the twentieth-first century. But before we fully embrace “open” science we need to think critically about its politics. Critical scholars have told us time and again how neoliberalism worsen inequalities, reduces participation, and restricts innovation to only marketable products/services. We need to ask for “whom” is science being opened, how “democratic” is that process, and of course what deep-seated politics are being advanced as things get opened-up? These are issues Leonelli has raised in relation to biology in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, but tracing these unfolding dynamics in relation to geographical data and in open access journals like Geo is up to all of us.

About the author: 

Dr James Porter is a Research Fellow in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. James’ work specialises in how institutional politics shapes the production, and in turn, use of environmental knowledge for policy, through the lens of science and technology studies (STS) and the management of risk/uncertainty.

References:

Leonelli, S. et al. (2015) Sticks and Carrots: Encouraging Open Science at its sourceGeo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.