Mozilla's latest initiative is Mozilla Science Lab, intended to foster digital literacy among science practitioners and help researchers around the world use the open Web to shape science’s future.
The project is being led by a new recruit to Mozilla, Kaitlin Thaney, who helped found and manage the science program at Creative Commons and previously worked at Digital Science, a company offering support for science startups. Kaitlin also advises the UK government on digital technology, and has previously worked on education technology with MIT and Microsoft.
Explaining the need for this project, which is being supported financially by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the new Mozilla Science Lab wiki states:
The web has revolutionized many aspects of our everyday life, from media to education and business. But even though the web was invented by scientists, we still have not yet seen it change scientific practice to nearly the same extent. In scientific research, we’re dealing with special circumstances, trying to innovate upon hundreds of years of entrenched norms and practices, broken incentive structures and gaps in training that are dramatically slowing down the system, keeping us from making the steps forward needed to better society.
It provides as its mission statement:
The aim of the Science Lab is to foster an ongoing dialog between the open web community and researchers to tackle this challenge. Together they'll share ideas, tools and best practices for using next-generation web solutions to solve real problems in science, and explore ways to make research faster, more agile and collaborative.
Initially the Science lab will focus on three core areas: digital literacy to enable scientists to share, reuse and reproduce research on the we; community support and innovation to help scientists work together; and opening a global conversation in order to work towards more open, efficient science on the web.
To make a start in the first of these areas Mozilla is using the established expertise of Software Carpentry and enlisted its founder, Greg Wilson together with administrator Amy Brown, to work out how improved digital literacy can promote better scientific research.
This is all a great idea as long as Software Carpentry isn't left out in the cold at some time in the future when Mozilla loses interest. The task of educating scientists in how to use computers and write software is an important one and Software Carpentry has been doing a great job. You might think that scientists would know how to use computers to handle data, but this is not part of their basic training - why not? Well it seems that, much like in the rest of the educational system, programming and computer science has been sidelined. Let's hope that ScienceLab helps Software Carpentry fix it up.