|Click for photo credit.|
So far this year, I've written about the science of early humans, the stark reality of climate change, the acceptance of junk science by the American public, and the return of nature. You can catch the posts here, here, here, here.
Today, to add to my end of year discussion, I am highlighting the power of the Internet to improve science and bring people together.
Some luddites have expressed many times in recent years that the Internet is dead. Just check out this depressing essay on the topic here. I would argue the exact opposite. The Internet is expanding and providing great opportunities for expression and exchange of ideas. Many of these exchanges are accelerating scientific discovery to the betterment of mankind and greater understanding of our planet.
Just take a look a the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the timing of key events in plants and animals like flowering and hibernation. The network was set up to capture information from citizen scientists from around the country to capture data and upload it onto a national database. The number of participants in the network is astounding and provides tremendous information on subtle year to year changes that may demonstrate patterns on how climate change is impacting (or not impacting) broad phenologic changes.
This is not the only type of network that brings together citizen scientists into a virtual world. Just take a look at this list here on the number of projects available for local engagement. Clearly, the Internet is not dead in trying to engage the public on producing strong research projects.
Plus, the public has access to tremendous scientific and environmental information. They can read journals, look at data, and interact with scientists. Plus, just look at all the you tube videos that teach us so much about the world. This is one of my favorites. Even the silly animal videos that everyone is sharing on Facebook gives us a look at the emotional life of animals in ways that could never be examined in the past. Each of us has probably seen more different types of cat and dog behavior as a result of Facebook than most cat and dog behaviorists of the pre-Internet age. We understand that animals have pretty complex emotional lives as can be seen here and here.
Plus, everyone over 45 in academics knows that information sharing and technological approaches to building a bibliographic reference list has changed tremendously. I can find emerging research on a particular topic any time of day through the Internet and set alerts so that I am informed automatically if there are any new emerging publications. There are also specialized information portals like the Karst Information Portal that bring together a wide variety of research sources within one easily searchable location.
A relatively recent innovation, cloud technology, allows us to have access to information pretty much anywhere we go in the world. This makes the Internet much more open. Sure, we have issues like the whole Wikileaks thing and some believe that the Internet is culturally risky or somehow doing damage. But a more open and accessible Internet is expanding with time.
Some also believe that the Internet is a soulless place. However, just take a look at this video and I think you'll see that the power of the Internet is just being felt. It has the ability to connect us in ways that we can only imagine.