Open data is the movement that encourages public sharing of data to promote collaboration and reduce costs. Similar to data sharing, open data is the movement to free data from the confines of private institutions so it can be used to improve technology across a wide range of fields. There are a number of initiatives that are working to free the data, especially healthcare related data. One such organization, the California Healthcare Foundation, has a “Free the Data Initiative” which is working to not only ensure that healthcare data is more publicly available, but also to develop the tools necessary to access and analyze the data. Similarly, the Health and Human Services department of the government is working on a Community Data Initiative which is a public-private effort to free data that has been stuck in private silos in order to catalyze the creation of a community health data pool. Their goals include “(1) raising awareness of community health performance, (2) increasing pressure on decision makers to improve performance, and (3) helping facilitate and inform action to improve performance.”
Citizen Science is a type of crowdsourcing that endorses open data and data sharing, allowing non-academic, “regular” citizens to get involved in the scientific community. With more people involved, more data can be gathered and analyzed from different perspectives. NASA has already successfully used citizen science as a tool to discover thousands of celestial phenomena, including nebulas, supernovas and gamma ray bursts. Now citizen science is moving to personalized healthcare with the company uBiome, cofounded by the Citizen Science advocate Jessica Richman. Furthermore, there are a number of websites like SciStarter and Microryza that are encouraging individuals to get involved in a number of projects across a broad scope of disciplines.
Overcoming the Cynics
Citizen science raises the questions about the quality of the data that is being gathered by non-professionals. However, the mentality is that even though some of the data might be inaccurate, the amount of data that is gathered will be so extensive that when combined with professional data the outliers will be easily identified and thrown out.
Can the public’s interest in space and NASA translate into genomics?