Will changing how science is measured change what science produces?


Author unknown, image from Altmetrics: a manifesto.
Click on the image to see more information about this topic.

I have written previously that the definition of  success will deeply influence the outcome of the project. When looking at innovation projects as a system, I believe that the design criteria are the greatest place to intervene and inform the overall flow of creative thinking. When you look at a project through the lens of evolution, the design criteria are the selective pressures that shape how organisms adapt to their contextual conditions. It’s all biomimicry… of course.

In Nature, there was an incredible Comment article by Heather Piwowar titled “Value all research products” which discussed the emergence of different measures of success in scientific research. These “altmetrics” are simply:

New ways to measure engagement with research output.

Basically, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is now measuring researchers on content beyond papers. This means that data sets, or engagement in online research forums will now be taken into account when determining the success of a given researcher and whether they should receive further funding. This new selective pressure could deeply influence the shift towards open information, alternative research models and increased collaboration.

There is a “manifesto” outlining the details behind altmetrics which discusses the bottle necks currently occurring in the status quo of peer reviewed journals and how new metrics will not just alter the content being produced, but how it gets validated and shared. One of their interesting statements is around the opportunity of speeding up information exchange:

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Zygote Quarterly – Bio-Inspired Magazine

Image source Zygote Quarterly: Click on the image to visit the site - excellent content to explore.

Some excellent friends of mine have assembled a magazine with an excellent goal:

Our mission: to establish a credible platform showcas- ing the nexus of science, technology and creativity in the field of biologically inspired design, using case studies, news and articles that are exemplary in their impact on the field, rigorous in their methodology, and relevant to today’s reader.

The final result they have assembled is superb – I’ll admit I am still digging through it all, so my comments and reflections are yet to come – in the mean time go and browse the zine:


Biomimicry – A conversation with Janine Benyus

Janine Benyus at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 4: "Nature's challenge," July 22, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson

For anyone beginning to explore biomimicry, or wanting to introduce it to new audiences, there is a superb resource online that is often buried below the glamour of TED talks. The new academic year means introducing biomimicry to fresh minds, so I thought I would start sharing the resources I use to do this.

A conversation with Janine Benyus

There is no replacement for reading the seminal text of Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature, but there is an excellent introductory overview that Janine posted on the website, that I designed, many moons ago. We use this as the first hand out in class to get all the students up to speed. It touches on all the big topics, such as;

  • Introduction to biomimicry, what is it, where it came from
  • Why biomimicry is critical for humanity now
  • The future of agriculture, farming like a prairie
  • The future of business, shifting our “niche”
  • Case studies for further research
This overview was written almost a decade ago, and is still the best entry point into the topic of biomimicry.

Favourite Quotes

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Flying Penguins and Mechanical Jellyfish to Change the World

image captured from the sublime you tube video - click on the image to enjoy the movie

These mesmerizing movies of flying silver penguins, floating jellyfish and metal telescopic arms are sublime and alarming. They are engineered science fiction as real, tangible, tested, explorations directly mimicking nature to learn new engineering and mechanical principles.

And did I say they were sublime? They are extraordinary. Here are the jellyfish:

Let me give you an overview and then dive into some of the ideas that are emerging from these discoveries.

Festo and the Bionic Learning Group

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Ecosystem Services – Auditing Resources

Not just beautiful, but functional as well? Who'da thought? Personal photo from Prince Edward Island 2010

Ecosystem services are integrated into all of the most fundamental concepts of sustainable or ecological thinking, and yet are probably poorly understood by most designers. “Ecosystem service” is a broad label used to describe, and anyone out there correct me if I’m wrong, the tangible resources and processes provided by any given natural location. These may include capturing and processing water, converting sunlight to energy, and the many nutrient cycles, such as carbon and nitrogen. But even this is a very simplistic view, as researchers are developing global models that highlight ecosystem services that effect the world wide temperature, hydrological and air flows, and more.

For most designers this an overwhelming array of information. How and where to start using this information is extraordinarily difficult. But how to find it is even harder. Some approaches have started by monetizing the intangible effects of ecological services, but I’ll focus on that in a later post. What I want to share in this post a resource that I found that is developing tangible tools for measuring the services of ecosystems and the impact design actions will have.

ARIES – ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services

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Research Resource

Shaping Tomorrow, foresight research resource

It ain’t pretty, but there’s a lot of content.

I was recently introduced to this incredible research resource called “Shaping Tomorrow”. Apparently it has only recently become accessible to for free to a general audience, and now the enormous database of information is available to anyone who signs up.

The website has 1000s of authors, academics and professional researchers that all contribute content around key areas of research. The content is then tagged with a range of different “forecasting” information to identify the strength of the “signal” and the forecasted impact, immediate or future. This is all an emerging language for me, and Shaping Tomorrow has a bunch of resources that I’m beginning to go through to help educate you to use the site. There is also a service for companies to order reports of specific research, or to create personal feeds around desired topics.

I’m looking forward to exploring deeper.