Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crowdsourcing Citizen Science Into Big Data KM

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Peter Doherty told the NorCal World Affairs Council tonight about "Disease in a Borderless World."  He was there mainly to share excerpts from his most recent books but I picked up a couple of insights that I think can drive innovation.

Dr. Doherty mentioned that Audubon Society members' bird watching activity provides a useful data set to ornithology research.  This is a perfect example of how crowdsourcing can support citizen science initiatives that engage the broader public.  People may be more likely to believe scientific research if they helped assemble its supporting data.  Crowdsourced scientific research can be a major driver of public policy if it can demonstrate public acceptance of a contested topic like climate change.

One of Dr. Doherty's claims tonight may have been incorrect.  He said that infectious diseases make ineffective bioweapons.  I beg to differ.  The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention exists precisely because infectious diseases can be weaponized.  This 2003 EMBO report republished by the NCBI demonstrates that the world should be very concerned about bioterror from infectious diseases.  I'm clarifying this matter to demonstrate how even the scientific community has gaps in its knowledge base.

The scientific community's knowledge gaps can feed poor practices in the private sector.  Dr. Doherty said that breeding areas for chickens and water fowl should be kept separate because commingling the two can spread pathogens.  Dumping chicken manure effluent onto rice paddies as fertilizer is a poor farming technique because water fowl land in those paddies and carry off diseases.

I'll outline the start of a solution to such knowledge gaps.  Dr. Doherty mentioned the World Health Organization as one of the UN's most effective agencies.  It already has a data repository on infectious diseases and a Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) that monitors data from a collection of national influenza centers.  WHO's projects should be the knowledge management repository for the Big Data pushed from national organizations like the US Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control.  WHO's ultimate goal should be the creation of embedded data maps that work the way I described in my recent blog post about geojournalism.  Embedded maps make knowledge management easy because data and analysis have a context that is specific to a given geography and time series.  Crowdsourced research projects will get citizens involved in creating these embedded data feeds.

I considered posting this article on Third Eye OSINT but decided that its value as a business proposition was more relevant than its value as an intelligence product.  The blending of GIS and text-formatted analysis creates a KM environment conducive to sharing among business and public policy analysts.  No longer will agribusiness be a silent enabler of contagion if it could access geo-specific warnings on separating chickens from wetlands or rice paddies.  The possibilities are endless.  So is my own genius.