MSL on the Road: Boston Open Vis + GET Conference

At the end of April, the Mozilla Science Lab traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with a few fellows from various Mozilla programs in tow. We went to support the Genomes Environments and Traits conference (aka GET Conf) at Harvard Medical School co-organized by our own fellow, Jason Bobe, and we sponsored a few representatives to attend the simultaneous OpenVis Conference at the New England Aquarium. The annual GET conference brings together leading thinkers to discuss how we measure and understand people and their traits, and OpenVis is a two-day  single-track conference centered around the practice of visualizing data on the web; together we thought they championed the ethos of open science and open web practice that we so strongly advocate for at Mozilla. Between conferences, we regrouped our fellows (Mozilla Science, Tech Exchange, Web Advocacy) and staff at the Miracle of Science and Cambridge Brewing Company to talk about the highlights of both conferences, many of which we’ll feature in the following paragraphs along with ways you can get involved!


As an extension to the GET Conference, a symposium called GET Labs brought together over 20 research studies focused on personalized medicine and open accessible data. Attendees witnessed a series of lightning talks from all participant studies followed by a “science fair” where they were invited to sync their Open Humans Account with various studies and applications built to engage the broader public in biomedical research. This included studies on the composition of the human microbiome (like American Gut), on the environmental factors that affect your health (Keeping Pace, Personal Exposure Project), and various Research Kit-based projects leveraging mobile devices to study Parkinsons’ symptoms, mole mutation, fever temperatures, and team health for athletes.


Throughout GET, attendees heard from a variety of speakers, some of the most moving including anecdotal vignettes from people who have overcome their own medical illnesses or engaged with them more actively through open data, like Janet Freeman-Daily’s talk on blogging and open communication around cancer, Steve Keating’s talk on discovering his own tumor through participation in an open research study, and Sonia Vallabh and Eric Minikel’s partner talk on putting themselves through med school to better research Sonia’s susceptability to Prion’s Disease.


On the other side of town, OpenVis Conf dazzled with a solid program of awesome talks on data visualization, machine learning, and graphical magic. Here are a few highlights from our attendees:

  • Kennedy Elliot’s Everything we know about how humans interpret graphics (Video here) blending some academic and practical study on human visual processing
  • Kyle McDonald’s A Return to Machine Learning (Video here) on deep learning and a variety of neural, recurrent nets
  • Christine Waigl’s Our Planet Seen from Space (Video here) on maps and tracking wildfires with satellite data
  • Nicki Case’s (Open News Fellow) How to simulate the universe, in 134 easy steps (Video here) on loops, flow models, and systems thinking in an age of even more information
  • Nadieh Bremer’s SVG Beyond Mere Shapes (Video here) on moving from astronomy to graphical science


Interested in open graphics post-OpenVis? Check out all of the videos from all the talks here, and the transcripts here, or play with the open source transcript visualization tool built by Bocoup here.


Interested in participatory medicine post-GET? Join Open Humans, a network that helps you connect with research studies, sync data across them, and explore data produced from them. You can easily link data from quantified self projects, and tools you might already use and love, like Runkeeper, 23&Me, the Personal Genome Project, Moves, Jawbone, Fitbit, Withings and many others featured in this gallery of partner data collectors.


Likewise, our fellow, Jason Bobe, who emcee’d and co-organized both GET Labs and the GET Conference, launched a living project called the Sharing Guidebook (pictured above), meant to help improve biomedical research by creating an index of open design patterns for studies, showing how they digest research data and share it reciprocally with participants.


If you’re interested in submitting a study, or contributing to the site, check out the project’s github page, or contact Jason directly.

The popularity of personal anecdote and participatory science at both events inspired us to collect a few of the highlights here for our broader community. Hoping you can all engage with some of the projects and people linked here, and stay tuned for our next adventure in open science research and visualization!