May 21, 2018

Rise of the Alt-Research Program

It is time for a new paradigm! In the past 5 years or so, a new type of research institute has arisen [1]. One that is flexible and open, without the constraints typical of a University or corporate labs. In a time of institutional change and funding uncertainty, such institutes provide a means for many non-conventional types of research to flourish. We can think of such facilities an "Alt-research Program" (after the "alt-academic" movement) [2], although stressing the open science and collaborative aspects are also important. So let's discuss some recent developments for one such organization, Orthogonal Research and Education Laboratory.

We have three recent developments: a new paper collaboration, a preprint mention, and a set of Google Summer of Code presentations. First up is a paper that was recently published with three co-authors. Orthogonal Research is a nexus for open science-enabled collaborations with University-based academics [3]. The paper “Network Dynamics of Attention During a Naturalistic Behavioral Paradigm” is now live at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience [4]. Learn about the what happens in attentional networks of the human brain during naturalistic behavior – in this case, high-resolution video game play with neural activity captured via “free-viewing” neuroimaging.

Here is how you build institutional credibility (or so I've heard). Notice the second affiliation.

From Figure 3 in the paper (drawings courtesy of Dr. Richard Huskey).

Screen shot of the first-person video game stimulus "Tactical Ops: assault on terror". Screenshot courtesy of Top Full Games and Software.

Orthogonal Lab was also recently mentioned in a preprint on scientific ecosystems [5] from members of the Ronin Institute. In the paper, Orthogonal Lab was described as a lab focusing on more specific research questions than a larger institute focused on enabling basic science initiatives (such as Neurolinx). This new scientific ecosystem paradigm proposed in the paper is focused on how to enable collaboration and open science outside of the formal University structure.

Thirdly, we have community period [6] presentations by three students in this year’s Google Summer of Code program (sponsored by INCF). There will be a presentation now, and a final presentation at the completion of the Summer. The idea is to keep students thinking about the project's progress, to develop their public speaking/presentation skills, and to build up the foundations for a paper or future research. Cheng-Hsun (Jim) Hsueh and Sam Felder are working on Contextual Geometric Structures project (Representational Brains and Phenotypes Group), while Arnab Banerjee is working with the OpenWorm Foundation (DevoWorm Group).

One way to enable Alt-research Programs is to embrace low carbon and location-free modes of doing and disseminating research. One such proposal (by Dr. Angel Goni-Moreno) has been made to provide low-carbon and researcher-accessible conferencing options to the annual ALife conference. In particular, distributed sessions would enable participation and collaboration across continents and research groups that would otherwise not interact.

The new research ecosystem paradigm path to field-specific and interdisciplinary community-building?

[1] See a previous Synthetic Daisies post on hosting theory hackathons through such as organization.

[2] While I find the prefix "alt-" to be a shallow marketing term (sometimes nefariously so), it does fit into existing descriptions of academic activity outside of or in parallel with Universities.

[3] The two main collaborators were the Media Neuroscience Laboratory at UCSB and the Cognitive Communication Science Laboratory at OSU.

[4] Here are the essential materials: Paper, Supplemental Materials, Open Dataset, Video Game Stimulus.

[5] Lancaster​​, A.K., Thessen​, A.E., Virapongse​, A. (2018). A new paradigm for science: nurturing the ecosystem. doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.26885v2.

[6] Typically, the community period is an opportunity for students to get acquainted with the community resources (open datasets, open codebase, community members) of their chosen open source/science organization. For more information on the Google Summer of Code community period, here are a few blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).