Previous month:
May 2010
Next month:
July 2010

June 2010

The "Boopsie Effect": Gender, Sexiness, Intelligence and Competence

TheBeautyBias Last Thursday, I heard segments of a KUOW interview with Deborah Rhode, Stanford law professor and author of The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, in which she spoke of the Boopsie effect, wherein women in upper-level positions in historically male-dominated professions find that "attractiveness suggests less competence and intellectual ability". One of the references she associates with this effect is a study on Evaluations of Sexy Women in Low- and High-Status Jobs, by Peter Glick and his colleagues, in which they segment women's roles into traditional, non-traditional and sexy, and suggest that while attractiveness is often associated with advantages, sexy self-presentation is a disadvantage for women in high-status jobs.

Boopsie I had not heard of the term before, but I presume it refers to the Doonesbury character, Boopsie, who is always drawn with a sexy self-presentation but is rarely portrayed in contexts demonstrating intelligence or competence. I've long been aware of the phenomenon, and believe it is helpful to have an evocative label with which to describe it. A couple of subsequent encounters later in the week with professionals' reactions to being designated "sexiest" prompted me to think (and write) a bit more about this effect. It appears that the effect can also apply to men - who were not studied in Glick's article - and that the negative effect for women may be diminishing, at least in some areas.

MonicaGuzman On Friday, I read that Mónica Guzmán had been voted Seattle's Sexiest Blogger by Seattle Weekly. I've met Mónica, read her writing and seen and heard her speaking, and consider her to be extremely competent and intelligent (and yes, sexy, as well). Although she expressed some awkwardness about receiving the award - given her recent resignation as a blogging reporter at the Seattle PI - her posting of a photo of the award during the ceremony, accompanied by a ":D + *blush* + ;)" caption, suggests that she did not find the award to be a significant diminishment.

SanjayGupta In contrast, on the Saturday NPR news quiz show, Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, host Peter Sagal introduced Sanjay Gupta as "CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, a practicing physician, a teacher of medicine ... and one of the Sexiest Men Alive" (given his having been featured as one of People Magazine's sexiest men). Dr. Gupta reacted negatively to the last part of Sagal's characterization, and said that if anything, he believes his "sexiest" designation tends to undermine his professional credibility. He did not say whether it diminished his standing in the medical community or the media community, but I suspect it applies more to the former than the latter.

After reflecting on Professor Rhode's observation about disadvantage that attractive women experience in historically male-dominated professions, and the different responses by these two professionals, I decided to do a little research:

So Dr. Gupta is operating at the intersection of two male-dominated professions - medicine (72% male) and mainstream media (67% male) - and finds the designation of sexiness to be a detraction from his professional standing. I don't mean to imply that the effect is the same for men and women, but it does appear that the Boopsie effect is not the sole purview of women.

Ms. Guzman has also been operating at the intersection of two professions, one of which is has more women than men (though it may be a stretch to call blogging a "profession"). I don't know the gender breakdown on new media journalists, but suspect the field is considerably less male-dominated than physician journalists, and it certainly doesn't have a long history.

Reflecting further on histories and traditions, it strikes me that one of the elements factoring into the Boopsie effect may be the credentialing process. Fields dominated by those with advanced degrees - MD, JD, PhD - may have a narrower view of what counts as intellectual ability ... and perhaps a stronger, if subconscious, view of what counts against it. Like medicine, Computer Science research is a field dominated by males with advanced degrees. I don't know the specific gender breakdown, but a recent NSF report shows that while over half (50.2%) of Science and Engineering PhD degrees were awarded to women in 2007, only 20.5% of those receiving Computer Science PhDs were women.

I have several female computer science research friends who are both brilliant and very attractive - and, yes, if I have to admit it, sexy ... though I'm keenly aware of feeling awkward even acknowledging this, perhaps further reflecting the negative effects that such designations may impart (which is why I'm intentionally not naming names). I know that they sometimes feel compelled to cloak their attractiveness to minimize physical distractiveness when they are presenting their intellectual insights to their mostly male colleagues. One particularly brilliant and attractive woman friend was explicitly criticized on review forms following a conference presentation for not having dressed more conservatively - to better conceal her attractiveness - during her presentation ... and this was in a subfield within computer science where the gender distribution is among the least skewed of any I've been associated with.

I recently wrote about de-bureaucratization, and described some of the ways that health care, education and science are starting to embrace platform thinking and empower a broader spectrum of stakeholders. I believe that journalism and journalists are at the forefront of de-bureaucratization - perhaps not entirely by choice - and the effective utilization and integration of new media platforms has played an important role in Monica Guzman's success.

BradyForrest Another intelligent and competent champion of platform thinking and doing - in fact, the co-chair of the premier conference on such matters, Web 2.0 Expo (most recent theme: The Power of Platforms) - was recently named the sexiest male among Violet Blue's Top 10 Sexiest Geeks. I'm not sure how Brady Forrest feels about this designation, but I imagine he does not see this as significantly undermining his credibility. I assume this partly due to his easy-going nature but also as a reflection of the stylistic differences between the relatively highly bureaucratized domain of traditional computer science research and the more democratic - or perhaps anarchic - culture of geeks.

As intelligent and competent people in traditionally bureaucratic realms adopt platform thinking - and new media channels - to reveal more of who they are as well as what they do, I'd like to think that the conflict between perceptions of attractiveness - or sexiness - and intelligence will be diminished, for both men and women ... but we shall see.


Wanted: a new word for "patient" ... but which one?

LoveMedicineAndMiracles-cover Years ago, I was surprised to read about a doctor - Bernie Siegel - advocating that people undergoing medical treatment be bad patients. In his 1986 book, Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients, the surgeon urged his fellow doctors to view themselves as privileged listeners - rather than mechanics - in the context of a healing partnership through which both parties exercise dual control and teach each other. Among his recommendations for bad (or exceptional) patienthood:

  • question authority
  • speak up for yourself
  • make your doctor aware of your unique needs and desires
  • record conversations with your physician for later review and for family use

At the time, I remember experiencing a cognitive dissonance between the word "patient" - which implies a passive recipient - and the more active role suggested in the "exceptional patient" approach. I read the book shortly after my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, during a period in which we consulted several different doctors with widely varying attitudes toward patients, views on treatment regimens, estimates of probable health trajectories and predictions of prospects for bearing and raising children. Fortunately, my wife was - and is - an exceptional patient, we had good health insurance, and we eventually found a great neurologist (James Donaldson, at the University of Connecticut Health Center, who specializes in multiples sclerosis and the neurology of pregnancy) with whom to partner.

Amy's relentlessly active engagement with all medical treatment providers and careful attention to her health and the health of all her family members has served all us exceptionally well. I believe her activist attitude has been an important factor in the successful management of the M.S. over the past 25 years, during which time she has found and worked with a series of doctors (we've moved several times), raised two children and endured a marital relationship with me. Her steadfast determination to fully understand all aspects of her care was more recently demonstrated throughout her anal cancer diagnosis and treatment (for which we recently celebrated her 5th anniversary). We have been fortunate to be covered by mostly good health insurance and treated by mostly outstanding medical professionals over the years, but I know others have not been so lucky.

73centsReginaHolliday Last week, I was both captivated and disturbed by Regina Holliday's story of her and her family's trials and tribulations in engaging with the health care system to treat her late husband's kidney cancer. I didn't even see her presentation at the Health 2.0 Conference, but her poignant Patient 2.0 slides led me to her Medical Advocacy Blog, where her inspiring words and art filled in the gaps of the narrative. As I briefly mentioned in my post on Platform Thinking, De-Bureaucratization and the Redistribution of Agency - which included Regina's story and a few other highlights of Health 2.0 - I was once again struck by the growing obsolescence of the word "patient", and the need for a new term that better reflects the participatory nature of our relationships with medical experts.

In her excellent summary of the conference, A Matter of Perspective, Regina shares some insights that really drive this point home. She observes the prevalence of patient participants throughout the conference - patient advocates, patient representatives, patient speakers. - and notes how many of these participants were standing rather than sitting, concluding: "sometimes you just can’t sit still and wait for change".

bmj So rather than sit still and wait for a change in terminology, I decided to do some research, and see if I could propose one or more alternatives, and/or get others to participate in the process. In looking around for previously proposed alternatives, I came across a November 1999 article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asking "Do we need a new word for patients?" [available via free registration].

Julia Neuberger, former chair of the Patient's Association (among many other roles), argues that we do need a new word, via an acknowledged overstatement of the disadvantages of the term:

Patient comes from the Latin “patiens,” from “patior,” to suffer or bear. The patient, in this language, is truly passive—bearing whatever suffering is necessary and tolerating patiently the interventions of the outside expert. The active patient is a contradiction in terms, and it is the assumption underlying the passivity that is the most dangerous. It is that the user of services will remain passive in sickness, allowing the healthcare professional to take the active part and tell the user what to do. The passive patient will do what he or she is told, and will then wait patiently to recover. The healthcare professional is the healer, while the recipient of healthcare services is the healed, and does not need to take a part in any decision making or in any thinking about alternatives.

In addition to the dangers in over-relying on the treaters (doctor) and under-relying on the treated (patients), she goes on to observe that many interactions between healthcare professionals and those seeking care occur outside the context of a specific disease, and focus more on activities of daily living and potential lifestyle changes that do not require medical intervention. She enumerates, and points out shortcomings with, a number of alternatives - "user", "client" and "consumer" - and after highlighting the transactional nature of the latter two, settles on "user" as the least objectionable among them. Personally, I find it rather difficult to imagine doctors and other healthcare professionals referring to the people currently known as "patients" as "users", and lean toward "client" as the least objectionable option.

In the second section of the article, Dr. Raymond Tallis argues that if it is not necessary to change something, it is necessary not to change it, and goes on to suggest that none of the following criteria are met:

  • The word has undesirable connotations which have a bad influence on doctors’ attitudes to the people who come to them for help and advice
  • There is an alternative word that would serve the denotative function of patient without carrying its putative adverse connotations
  • The change in terminology would bring about an improvement in attitudes

His criteria may be biased by his role as a physician (at that time); to balance things out, I would add a fourth criterion, and put it at the top of the list:

  • The word has undesirable connotations which have a bad influence on patients'  attitudes toward themselves and/or the people from whom they seek help and advice

After consideration of "consumer", "customer" and "health seeker" (which may be more appealing / apropos with the recent release of a new HealthSeeker Facebook game by the Diabetes Hands Foundation), he appears to find "client" the least objectionable alternative. Tallis claims that that "Most linguistic reforms reflect rather than bring about changes in attitudes", and offers the example of the adoption of "Ms" as a marital status-neutral title for women which has had little effect. I disagree with this general perspective, and believe that the linguistic manipulations of Frank Luntz - who succeeded in reforming attitudes through shifts in terminology in the cases of "global warming" vs. "climate change", "estate tax" vs. "death tax" , and "third trimester abortion" vs. "partial-birth abortion" - offer powerful counterexamples.

More specifically, the use of "Ms" has certainly brought about a significant reform in my attitude toward women - not having to ask or assume the marital status of a woman before addressing her means I never have to even consider marital status during an interaction ... just as I never have to consider marital status during an initial interaction with a man. I also suspect that an equalizing empowerment is experienced by a woman introducing herself as "Ms", who need not be concerned about others' judgments relating to marital status.

Now, I don't meant to imply that doctors and patients are equals with respect to knowledge of medical conditions and treatment options. We seek out doctors explicitly for their considerable knowledge and experience - and ideally, for their clinical wisdom, which also involves compassion, creativity and honesty. However, just as the use of Ms establishes more of a peer-to-peer platform for a conversation, I think a similar leveling of relationship might be achieved with a rephrasing of the references to people seeking health care treatment or advice ... if only we could find a good new word.

Several people posted "rapid responses" to the 1999 article, many of whom were doctors, and most of which responded to words proposed by one of the two commentators. A few offered other terms - "medusers" or "sickies" - which they also dismissed, and one suggested we look at other languages for cues (though noting that Welsh and French terms both imply "one who is sick", and so did not represent improvements). One respondent included a link to a study in the Medical Journal of Australia asking "Patient, client or customer?", which reported

[a study of] 308 outpatients at John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle, NSW, and concluded that over 80 per cent of all patients approached, and over 90 per cent of those above 60 years of age, preferred the term "patient" over "client" or "customer".

patient-client-customer

Taking a cue from a blog post by e-Patient Dave on a poll for renaming the Consumer Health Data Initiative - initiated by Todd Park, CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - during the Health 2.0 conference, I thought I'd experiment with another UserVoice poll to see whether those who are following Health 2.0 are more supportive of a change in terminology, and perhaps more importantly, determine what term(s) we would prefer to use. The criteria I would propose for the new word would be the following:

  • it denotes an active, participatory role for the person soon-to-be-formerly-known-as "patient"
  • it reflects or is appropriate in the health care context
  • it is a term that could be used by all parties in various health care roles: doctors, nurses, non-medical health care providers and, of course, the "patients" themselves

Please participate by voting and/or adding new words to the Rename Patient poll, and encouraging others who may be interested in this issue to do so as well. And if you have any other ideas to contribute to the overall discussion - including references or links to other relevant articles or blog posts I haven't included - please feel free to post comments below. Thanks!


Platform Thinking, De-Bureaucratization and the Redistribution of Agency

Tim O'Reilly wrote the definitive guide to the concept and term Web 2.0 back in 2005. The central theme from the outset was to view the web as a platform, and that view has evolved over time to encompass a collection of platforms with varying degrees of interoperability ... and varying degrees of openness to external innovation. His most recent thinking along this trajectory is captured in a sequence of blog posts, The State of the Internet Operating System and Handicapping the Internet Platform Wars, and a broader range of platform thinking (and doing) by others is captured in my notes from the keynotes at the Web 2.0 Expo organized by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb in San Francisco last month. While reading Tim's essay on Government as a Platform, in anticipation of the Gov 2.0 Expo two weeks ago, I started thinking about platform thinking in terms of de-bureaucratization and redistribution of agency ... and decided to stage a few photos and write a few words about this characterization.

Bureau as enclosed storage Bureau as platform

The word bureau traditionally refers to a writing desk that includes an enclosure or cover for the writing surface and a set of drawers. The idea of a writing surface is very consistent with the concept of platforms - support for tools (paper, pen, laptop) and activities (reading, writing, coding) - but the more passive, restrictive and constricting ideas of enclosure and storage have come to represent the more dominant metaphor for bureaucracy. Similarly, the word agency can denote an individual capacity and willingness to act - conveying a sense of personal power - or it can refer to an organization that acts on behalf of others, a delegation of authority to experts which can have an unintended disempowering effect on those who are purportedly being served.

image from covers.oreilly.com Thinking about the web - or government or other networks of organizations - as a collection of platforms entails seeing these entities not as ends but as means: essential building blocks upon which people can actively participate in the co-creation, coordination and dissemination of solutions to their problems, rather than providers of finished goods for passive consumers. In the opening chapter of Open Government, Tim offers his view on Government as a Platform, borrowing an evocative image for non-platform thinking as a "vending machine" view of government:

We pay our taxes, we expect services. And when we don’t get what we expect, our “participation” is limited to protest—essentially, shaking the vending machine. Collective action has been watered down to collective complaint.

Instead, if I may borrow from John F. Kennedy, we should not ask what government can do for us, but rather what we can do with government. Reducing bureaucracy will require increased openness and malleability on the part of the platform providers and a more broadly distributed sense of agency - including an increased capacity and willingness to act - on the part of platform users ... and I suspect that the changes will not come easily on either side of the partnership (platformship?).

OpenGov-logo Some of the most promising prospects for platform proliferation are proceeding from the Open Government Initiative announced by the Obama Administration shortly after taking office last year. The OpenGov initiative seeks to promote trust, transparency, participation and collaboration, and many government agencies are implementing this through, in effect, opening their drawers and making more government data available.

Gov20expo-logo The recent Gov 2.0 Expo highlighted many of the ways that individuals and groups inside and outside of government, at different levels and in different countries, are taking advantage of this and related developments to transform bureaucracies into more open platforms for participation. I won't go into them all here, but highly recommend the videos and slides from many of the Gov 2.0 speaker presentations that have been made freely available online. Tim's keynote, on Government as a Platform for Greatness, can be seen below:

I want to delve more deeply into three areas that I think are ripe for de-bureaucratization and redistribution of agency: health, education and science ... all of which might fit the "vending machine" model that Tim applied to government, possibly substituting "premiums" and/or "tuition" for "taxes" as input to the vending machine.

Health as a Platform

Health20dc-300x51 As part of the Open Government Initiative, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a Community Health Data Initiative to open the drawers of some of the health-related data kept by the government. A Health 2.0 Conference was held in Washington, DC, this week to bring together traditional and non-traditional agents who are taking advantage of the newly released government data as well as data and metadata collected from other segments of the health community. While the conference web site doesn't appear to reflect the level of platform thinking exhibited by O'Reilly Media conferences - e.g., no live stream of the presentations nor any archive of videos and/or slides (yet) - the agenda, as well as some post-conference summaries by HealthCentral, Health Populi and e-patients.net, suggest that platform thinking is alive and well in the health domain, in no small part due to those who have died or are unwell because of bureaucratic obstructions.

73centsReginaHolliday Regina Holliday presented a powerful pitch for platform thinking in Patients 2.0 ("engaged, empowered, equipped and expert"). She shares the compelling story of her struggles against bureaucratic obstructions to proper and timely diagnosis and treatment of her late husband's kidney cancer, and advocates for full and free access to medical records by patients, who are - or can be - the most effective agents for their own medical care. Regina has channeled her anger with the system into words (her Medical Advocacy Blog) and pictures (a photo of her mural 73 cents, named for the cost per page she was charged by a hospital to get a copy of her husband's medical records, is shown on the right); a full timeline of Regina's advocacy can be found at the Open Health Project. She finished off her presentation with a call to arms (or paintbrushes, pens, microphones and cameras), inspired by a quote from Christine Kraft on the power of stories and platforms:

I can tell you something about stories: They drive engagement. What we don't typically consider (and this is why stories are so controversial) is that stories become legitimized by an audience, not a storyteller. That's why some stakeholders resist - they don't want to legitimize a story, a rad idea or tribute or pain, by giving it a platform.

Other individuals and organizations mentioned in the summaries include Trisha Torrey (Every Patient's Advocate), Josh Summer (Chordoma Foundation), Jonathan Kuniholm (Open Prosthetics Project), Jamie Heywood (PatientsLikeMe) and Amy Romano (Maternity Care 2.0). In addition to promoting de-bureaucratization and individual agency - and a proposal to think of patients as a platform (an interesting twist) - another Web 2.0 thread that appears to run through several of the presentations is the application of the long tail effect to the health domain - empowering people who suffer from relatively rare conditions and diseases to access and share vital information.

A new platform was announced at the conference by the Journal of Participatory Medicine: The Moment, a patient-produced video series in which people with medical conditions describe the "Aha!" moments when they shifted from being passive patients to active participants in managing their health and wellness. Health care may represent the area in which we have traditionally been most likely to defer to the authority of experts, perhaps best epitomized by the use of "patient" to describe people receiving care. Words are powerful, and I believe a key ingredient in the redistribution of agency in this domain will be coming up with a more appropriate term to denote a person seeking information about and/or treatment for a medical condition: something more akin to "participant" than "supplicant".

Education as a Platform

Our education system has traditionally encouraged patience and supplication on the part of the receivers of services (students). PBS recently aired an episode of Digital Nation that explores the transformation of learning and education in the digital age. In a segment on Education 2.0, author Mark Presky reviews a number of obstacles to learning posed by traditional schools, and argues that online platforms offer students unprecedented opportunities to take a more active role in finding and following their passions.

TEDxNYED-logo The recent TEDxNYED conference, curated by David Bill, provided another platform for challenging assumptions, adopting new tools and promoting new practices in education.  As with the other conferences I've mentioned so far, there were many inspiring presentations; fortunately, videos of all the presentations are available on the conference web site (and on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel), and some speakers have shared their TEDxNYED slides on SlideShare.

Most inspiring (to me), and most relevant in the current context, was the presentation on Open Education and the Future by David Wiley, in which he defined education as "a relationship of sharing" and argued that "openness is the only means of doing education". Highlighting the "4 Rs" of web 2.0 tools and techniques - reuse, redistribute, revise, remix - he declared that new media technology offers an unprecedented capacity for sharing, and thus an unprecedented opportunity for education. The reigning bureaucracy in the 15th century - the Catholic Church - imposed draconian restrictions on even reading the bibles produced via printing press, that era's new media technology, leading to the de-bureaucratization and redistribution of agency known as the Protestant Reformation. Similarly, current bureaucracies are obstructing the dissemination of information via new media technologies and even employing technology to conceal and withhold its own potential. Fortunately, with the anticipated soaring demand for higher education globally - increasing from 120 million to 270 million over the next 25 years - he suggests that "education is on the edge of its own Reformation".

image from static.thelotteryfilm.com There is plenty of potential for platform thinking in primary and secondary education as well. Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academy network of charter public schools, refers to the challenges of what I would call de-bureaucratizing what she calls the union-political-educational complex. Other aspects of this complex are explored in Storming the School Barricades, a Wall Street Journal interview with Madeline Sackler about her documentary film, The Lottery. I haven't seen the film yet, but I have certainly encountered bureaucratic barricades in our local school system, and my son's recent experience with a web-based math course offered by Apex Learning has heightened my appreciation for the prospect of online learning platforms to reclaim agency from union-political-educational complexes. The recent success of Christian conservatives in using the Texas State Board of Education as a platform for propagating their revisionist views on science and history via the traditional text book approval process may galvanize more people to become more active in seeking out new platforms for education.

Science as a Platform

The third area in which I see some growth in platform thinking is science. The reliance on experts may be more deeply entrenched in science than in most other areas, due to the nature of science itself: the discovery and/or creation of new knowledge. Expertise clearly plays a central role in this process, and much of science requires specialized techniques and expensive tools in order to make progress, but this can lead to a silo effect wherein scientists interact primarily with other scientists in their field. There are a number of platforms - online and offline - for translating scientific discoveries into narratives that can be better understood by more general audiences. However the real potential for platform thinking is to open up the drawers of the scientific bureaucracy in ways that allow people to not just read about science but to contribute in more meaningful ways.

sagecongress The Sage Commons Congress was recently convened to promote the Sage Commons, "a novel information platform being built by an international partnership of researchers and stakeholders to define the molecular basis of disease and guide the development of effective human therapeutics and diagnostics". In his summary of the event, provocatively entitled "Engage or become irrelevant", Cameron Neylon presents a compelling argument for de-bureaucratization and the redistribution of agency:

“The public” is not some homogeneous group of barbarians at the gate of our ivory towers. They are a diverse group, many of them interested in what researchers do; many of them passionately interested in some specific thing for a wide range of different reasons. In a world where the web enables access and communication, and enables those with common interests to find each other, people who are passionately interested in what you are doing are going to be increasingly unimpressed if avenues are unavailable for them to follow and contribute. And funders, including those ultimate funders, are going to be increasingly unimpressed if you don’t effectively tap into that resource.

There are strong interrelationships between science and health care (and science and education), and so many of the developments mentioned in earlier sections apply to the domain of science. Cameron Neylon's arguments for greater engagement are articulated in a context mostly concerned with the scientific modeling of diseases, diagnostics and therapies - clearly at the intersection of science and health care. However, platform thinking applies to other areas of science that are not as closely related to health care.

SETI@HomeSETI@Home represents an early (1999) but relatively minimalist platform for engagement in science. Participants in this project simply run an application that uses spare cycles on their home computers to automatically download and analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The NASA Clickworkers program (2000) offers a higher level of engagement, requiring participants to visually inspect and mark craters on downloaded satellite images of solar system bodies. The Science of Collaboratories project has an extensive list of other early projects, all of which were begun prior to the Web 2.0 era (but some of which have been revised to take advantage of new platforms).

image from www.nsf.gov In the U.S., one of the most important platforms for promoting the advancement of science has traditionally been The National Science Foundation. As an agency of the federal government, the NSF has its share of bureaucratic rules and regulations, but its policy of peer review in the consideration of grant proposals is at least a partial embrace of platform thinking. The review process involves significant engagement with external stakeholders - scientists who have no conflicts of interest with those submitting proposals - to evaluate the intellectual merit and prospects for broader impact of proposed scientific research in a wide array of fields. The NSF recently announced that scientists seeking funding will be required to submit data management plans for sharing the data they collect in their research as part of the proposal process. The agency also announced a new STAR-METRICS assessment that will provide a "rigorous, transparent review" of the impact of research on publications, patents, citations as well as entrepreneurship (new start-ups).

NSF tends to fund long-term research, with an average annual allocation $145,000 per grant. A number of alternative open science platforms / projects were profiled in a recent New York Times article, Seeking to Help Budding Researchers With a Click of the Mouse. All are attempting to open up not just the proposal process, but the funding process - which might be viewed as a proxy for peer review - as well, and to move down the long tail of research to fund people and projects that might not qualify for NSF funding. The Eureka Fund, the main focus of the article, is seeking $25,000 - via suggested donations of $25 each - to support a single pilot project investigating the energy ecosystems in emerging economies. Other platforms include SciFlies.org, which lists several potential projects in the range of $5,000 - $12,000, and FundScience.org, which is intended to support pilot projects up to $50,000 (though I don't see any projects listed). All of these platforms are intended to route around the established scientific bureaucracies in order to fund smaller-scale research outside of and/or at the intersection of the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines. Unfortunately, I can't find any information about funding levels for SciFlies or FundScience, and while the EurekaFund has doubled its funding base in the past 2 months - from $1,300 when the NYTimes article was published on April 2 to $2,754.00 today - prospects for full funding do not appear very promising in the foreseeable future.

A Harris Interactive poll on What We Love and Hate About America released this week suggests that we have a far more favorable view of science and technology (75%) than education (33%), health care (32%) or government (23%). While we seem to admire science, it appears we generally prefer to do so at a distance. Given the pressing societal problems we face with respect to climate, energy and sustainability, the time seems ripe for a deeper engagement across a broader range of our population.

image from moviebanter.files.wordpress.com One of the things that struck me about Regina Holliday's presentation on Patient 2.0 was her emphasis on the power of the personal story. I'm reminded of an interview I saw with Nicholas Kristof, co-author of Half the Sky, where he observed that the articles he wrote about the oppression of women that focused on individual stories were far more effective in attracting attention and galvanizing action than articles that focused on the larger-scale statistics. I'm also reminded of a provocative commentary I encountered shortly after I wrote my review of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, and included in an update:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, has posted a blog entry on An Inconvenient Truth, entitled It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine, which includes a copy of his LA Times op-ed article on If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming. The article lists four factors that may help explain why more people aren't more concerned about global warming:

  • There is no human or group, e.g., a brutal dictator or evil empire, that is consciously trying to harm us
  • Human societies have not, generally speaking, evolved moral rules about atmospheric chemistry (unlike, say, gay marriage)
  • The negative impacts are too far in the future, and not generally perceived as a clear and present danger
  • The changes are happening too slow for our brains to register

However, Paul Hawken offers a somewhat different perspective - or, at least, suggests a different possibility - in his book, Blessed Unrest:

We cannot save our planet unless humankind undergoes a widespread spiritual and religious awakening … [but] What if there is already in place a large-scale spiritual awakening and we are simply not recognizing it?

We may be in the process of a widespread spiritual and religious awakening, but until we achieve critical mass in the recognition of the large-scale problems that face us and the capacity and willingness to address them, the proliferation of smaller-scale platforms - in government, health care, education and science - through which we can participate more fully may help us make incremental progress toward bettering our collective lot.