Category Archives: Knowledge Gardening

IBIS meets medical research

My thesis research calls for collecting IBIS documents to study and, perhaps, to merge. I’ve been collecting IBIS conversations about climate change, one from Debategraph, two provided by MIT, and one I created by harvesting from a webpage, described here. I could, of course, use more such documents. But, I have an opportunity to begin exploring personal medical situations using the same hypermedia discourse platforms. That’s what I did.

I created an IBIS document using Compendium that essentially asks this question: can Coley’s Toxins be used to combat thyroid nodules? I put the constantly evolving document online here. Let me explain it.

As an IBIS conversation, it is a tree rooted in some form of a context. Sometimes, the research question is the context. Sometimes, a background statement is that context, as is this case.  As a topic mapper, I chose to create one branch of the tree called Topics, in which I am recording all the nouns that come up in my research.  It’s an experiment. Things will change. For now, the nouns are organized in a “cheap taxonomy”, one that will certainly change over time.  Other branches sketch the research methodology, the question, and then two domains of interest: the visitation and therapeutics.

It’s pretty easy to use Wikipedia to find out what Coley’s Toxins (adjuvants) are; in brief, they were discovered back in the late 1800s as a way to deal with cancerous tumors.  They are, essentially, bacteria that, when injected directly into the lesion, provoke a massive immune response that takes out the tumor. Unfortunately, until they learned how to inject killed bacteria, the patient did lose the tumor, but died from the bacterial infection as well.  Over time, even as recently as 1990, Coley’s Toxins were still being investigated.

The point of this work, aside from a personal investigation into matters that matter, is to continue the evolution of ways in which patients can conduct research into matters that matter to them. In the long run, if that research is conducted in online social settings, more people are engaged, more people contribute–think, crowd sourcing personal medical research–and the opportunities for synergies abound. When the setting is part of a knowledge garden where stakeholders of other kinds are also engaged, no telling how far we can push the envelope of reducing health care costs while improving outcomes.

The single largest improvement to outcomes, I strongly believe, occur when patients take control of their situation, which, end-to-end, means being part of the research team that finds answers to complex issues that result from the visitation with which they deal.

IBIS meets MediaWiki

Some slides are now online at slideshare which are drawn from training materials for the Bloomer project which is a component in the collective intelligence platform being installed in some Millennium Project nodes. The IBIS MediaWiki extension can be added to any MediaWiki installation (though it’s not tested on the latest MediaWiki build); it should be possible for a good PHP developer to adapt its code to other platforms such as Drupal.

The extension presently is configured to maintain an index of conversations. Each conversation starts as a Wiki topic, and each question, answer, or argument (see below) is also an individual Wiki topic.

IBIS stands for Issue-based Information Systems, and it’s a target in my thesis research. IBIS conversations are structured, meaning each question, answer, or argument occupies its own node which is linked through a coherence-relation to another node. Some references are found at the Compendium website.

A lone question or idea can start a conversation; answers or questions respond to questions. Answers respond to other answers to expand on them. Pro or con arguments follow answers. As a conversational tool, online structured conversation platforms are part of the argument web. They are also highly appropriate to #CCK11 connectivist thought.

Examples of structured conversation platforms include Compendium, Cohere, DebategraphTruthMapping, Climate Collaboratorium, and Argument Mapping and an emerging list of others. It should be noted that Jane McGonigal has introduced IBIS as playing cards in her online games, including the MRF Game I mentioned here, and these.

MRF Game Results Posted

The Myelin Repair Foundation game on which I reported here and here is now discussed at the Robert Wood Johnson website. The 30 page pdf is found here. The report opens with this:

On October 7–8, and November 9–10, 2010, Institute for the Future (IFTF), in cooperation with the Myelin Repair Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson  Foundation, hosted a Foresight Engine thought experiment called Breakthroughs to Cures.  Designed as an open, non-partisan environment where models for innovation in medical research can be freely explored and developed, the purpose was to generate  “outlier” ideas and strategies that could lead to more effective and efficient ways to fund  and conduct medical research with the goal of speeding up the development of patient  treatments and cures.

Played as a “card game” where each card resembles a node in an Issue-based information systems (IBIS) conversation as seen in, for example, Compendium which I illustrated from my own MRF game moves here, or at Debategraph, the game provided wide opportunity for journalistic discovery and reporting. The report says this:

In sum, what game play pointed to was a variety of opportunities—particularly in terms of technological infrastructure and in terms of the types of relationships that could be built to bring new ideas to basic science research and to make better use of current resources. Many of these ideas point toward long-term opportunities to facilitate connection and accelerate, and in this sense, provide the outlines for actions to take over time to accelerate medical research.

I believe that an important contribution provided by the MRF game report as produced by IFTF members is its illustration of how a crowd-sourced research project could produce results that journalists could then synthesize into a report worthy of any sensemaking project which leads to decision making.

Where could the MRF games go from here?  I believe the answer to that question lies in the hands of those who created, conducted, and funded that project. What value can those of us who research and practice the art and science of sensemaking through hypermedia discourse gain from the MRF game? The answer to that lies precisely in what we do with not only the report linked above, but also what we do as we study the game boards ourselves seeking to better understand the craft exhibited.

Online games that matter

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) teamed with the Myelin Repair Foundation, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to host a game with this title:

How would you advise the President to reinvent the process of medical discovery?

The game was played here, ending today. Following the game, as part of my thesis project, I wrote a quick summary report, found here.  At the same time, I created a new hashtag at Twitter: #ogtm for online games that matter.

My overall impression from playing the game is that online games that matter, with the Foresight Engine being a shiny new example, will play an increasingly important role in social sensemaking and learning.

Data-intensive Scientific Discovery

It seems worth mentioning a book, The Fourth Paradigm: Data-intensive Scientific Discovery, found here.

The speed at which any given scientific discipline advances will depend on how well its researchers collaborate with one another, and with technologists, in areas of eScience such as databases, workflow management, visualization, and cloud computing technologies.

Most notably, the book can be purchased, and it can be downloaded in two PDF formats for free.

I suspect that events of history such as climategate and others lend force to ideas such as citizen science, multiple opinions, and transparency. My sense is that, given massive improvements in compute power, parallel processing, seti@home-like computing, we will see more opportunities for eScience to “take to the streets”.

Looking at FriendFeed

Björn Brembs wrote a blog entry Social filtering of scientific information – a view beyond Twitter in which he states that FriendFeed shares all of the features of Twitter but few of its limitations and provides many additional features valuable for scientists.

My interests in microblogging relate to backchannel communications, say, in the scenario in which you are engaged in an IBIS conversation and want to toss out ideas with others before committing to a response. But, the description of FriendFeed and signing on there as “gardens” (all my favorite login names were taken) suggests that it might serve other purposes. Certainly, the blog post’s links suggest that there is a lot of science going on there. Here are the salient points made:

Also in contrast to Twitter, comments to each contribution are archived in that context (and without a time limit), providing a solid base for fruitful, threaded discussions. In your user profile, you can choose to aggregate any number of individual RSS or Atom ‘feeds‘, including scientific publications you bookmark in your online reference manager (e.g. CiteULike or Connotea), your blog entries, social bookmarks (Google Reader,, etc.), and Tweets; and any other items you wish to post directly to your feed. You then look for other users whose profile is relevant to your work and subscribe to them. Every individual item posted in your subscriptions will then appear on your personalized FriendFeed homepage, plus optionally a configurable subset of the feeds you subscribed to. You can choose to bookmark (‘like‘) any of these items (Facebook copied this ‘like’ functionality just before it bought FriendFeed), comment on them, and share discussion threads in various ways.

At first, this aggregation of information and threaded discussions might seem daunting. However, the stream of information can be channeled by organizing it into separate sub-channels (‘lists’; similar to but more versatile than ‘folders’ in email), according to your personal preferences (e.g. one for search alerts). In addition to individual users, you can also subscribe to ‘rooms’ that revolve around particular topics. For example, the “The Life Scientists” room currently has 1,267 members and imports one feed.

Polylogues again

I’ve noticed that there is sometime a bit of confusion, often detected when someone comments, in effect “oh, dialogues can be between more than two people”. Sure. I’ve been searching for some insight. Found some here (Arne Haselbach (Vienna) Polylogue – a paradigm for cultures
Based on a different notion of “polylogue”):

In my understanding there are two major differences between the words “dialogue” and “polylogue”. The first relates to the numbers involved, the second to the specificity of the participants.

As regards the numbers involved, “dialogue” refers to two or more, “polylogue” to many. Related to that is the second difference. The “two or more” that dialogue refers to are usually thought of as specific people – even if unknown -, while “the many” that the word “poly” refers to does not imply specific people.

The post goes on to explain those points, then gives the following summary:

Polylogues are, thus, the setting and the processes

  • in which people learn a language and acquire the stereotyped meanings and uses of language
  • in which people grow up into or enter a culture and acquire the stereotyped meanings and patterns of behaviour and its dominant rationality

and, at the same time, polylogues are the setting and the processes

  • in which languages and cultures develop and change over time.

Polylogues are central to all phenomena of living cultures.

Still chasing an intuition that the polylogues concept brings something to the table set by the knowledge gardening framework I have been outlining.

In Whose Conversation: Engaging the Public in Authentic Polylogue, (2004) Stephen Coleman suggests

that there is a radical cultural disconnection between the ways politicians think, act and express themselves and the norms of everyday sociability.

In a section on disconnection (and reconnection) between political entities and people, he tellingly states:

In reality, communication technologies can transmit signals, but cannot automatically or deterministically reconfigure relationships. The persistent question that must be addressed by the modernising proponents of reconnection is, Connection to what?

The paper then introduces conversation, suggesting many of the same points encountered in descriptions of Bohmian Dialogues:

Genuine polylogue, in the sense suggested by Buber, entails openness to conflicting
values as well as opinions. Within a deliberative context, openness involves the
abandonment of fixed preferences and values and a willingness to give reasoned
consideration to alternative preferences and values.

Then, the paper turns to deep listening:

In a collaborative dialogue, such as a conversation, listening comprises the
silent, reflective part of speaking. Buber refers to moments of communicative
interaction that are neither simply monologue nor reception as ‘the between.’ In this
sense, a genuine conversation between politicians and people should be based less on
speaking or being heard than those moments of common recognition where there is a
fusion between speaking and listening.

The paper finally envisions a space in which public polylogues are conducted, sketching six guiding principles:

Purpose: a reason for engaging the public

Design: appropriate use to technologies, known in my thesis work as boundary infrastructures and boundary objects

Recruitment: ensuring the right mix (as inclusive as possible) of participants

Moderation: needs to be fair, inclusive and transparent:

The traditional notion of the internet as a space of anarchy should be resisted

Summation: regular summaries of what’s going on

Response and outcome:

A link must be demonstrated between the initial purpose for engaging the public and
the outcome of their participation.

My own take on those six principles is that I have avoided the notion of moderation, though I am well aware of the wild west mentality and bad behavior that can crop up from time to time. I’ve been more inclined to seek ways to use a high-dimensional reputation and trust system to tame the wild frontiers of participatory behavior.