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Open Government Data Can Build Better Societies

Governments around the world have been building databases for years. They have compiled information on a number of subjects and people. They are not just those who pose a potential threat, but your average, everyday citizen.Regional and local authorities are also on the list. According to Ideas.ted.com, a growing movement is forcing governments to publish the data they hold as part of an ‘open government data‘ movement, and an increasing number of Americans are taking up the fight. Advocates argue that government data should be made available to the public, because it’s funded by the taxpayer and databases are created to help build better societies.

Opening access to sensitive data is a bold step, but raises a multitude of questions, from who owns it, to should it be released, and the repercussions of what will happen if it’s made public.

Yale Fox, the creator of Rentlogic, a search engine that uses government data to rate landlords and rental properties, says open data is an important decision-making aid that helps us make the right choices.

Open Government Data: Getting a Better Grasp of It

Open Government DataThe term ‘open government data’ means making “information contained in government databases freely available to businesses and people. It has evolved out of the open source movement that makes software source code open and free to modify and distribute,” Fox said.

“government data should be complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine-processable, nondiscriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free”

The first calls to release sensitive data came from scientists who realized the benefits of using research results and statistics from what would otherwise be a closed source. Widespread calls for governments to open access to their data quickly followed. The first major debate on the subject took place in California in 2007, where 30 internet leaders and activists gathered to work out how the government could make data available.

According to TED, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, the late free-knowledge activist Aaron Swartz and open source advocate Tim O’Reilly, were present at the discussion. The group concluded that “government data should be complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine-processable, nondiscriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free.”

Open Government Data = Freedom of Information

In 2009, President Obama became the first President to open government data by issuing a memo on transparency and open government, which led to the creation of data.gov. The website “improves public access to certain machine-readable datasets generated by the executive branch of the federal government”, and led to data being accessible by everyday citizens. This database is now home to more than 180,000 sets of data which are deemed as ‘open’.

According to the global open index data, this freedom of information movement is not only evident in the United States but in more than 50 countries throughout the world, all calling for open government data. Medical teams use them to improve healthcare, by opening access to improve research and so that patients can have a better experience within the healthcare industry.

In 2014, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched Open Payments, a website that allows the public to search as to whether doctors have a financial relationship with any medical organizations which might influence their decision-making.

While, thOpen Paymentse non-profit Sunlight Foundation tracks influence on US government and politics. Its Influence Explorer website gives the public real-time access to campaign finance reports of all federal candidates running for office. Open Secrets also provides a database that compiles “total lobbying spending and lets users easily click through data broken down by year, industries, lobbying firms and top spenders”, making it easier for the public to keep tabs on public representatives.

Finally, Fox’s own company Rentlogic curates and integrates multiple data sources, providing the public with building inspections, public complaints and court records, so they can make an informed decision about landlords before signing a property lease.

Why There Should be an Open Government Data Policy

According to the Pew charitable trusts, technological advances have made it easier to share, analyze and organize government data, and enable the public to get their hands on it relatively quickly, but it doesn’t address the legal implications. Although there is legal protection for more sensitive data, the lines can be blurred when it comes to accessing any type of data, and the laws are always changing in this regard.

Opening government data is a win win for all. It encourages transparency, and ensures that government agencies, healthcare providers, educators and organizations can share the information they hold to encourage data-driven decision-making, improve services and become more efficient. What’s more, the positive benefits it provides to society cannot be measured.

Gender Gap In Science: Number Of Female Scientists Are Catching Up

After decades of lack of encouragement, opportunity, discrimination and bearing with injustices in the workplace, here’s good news that has a bold impact in society: female scientists are now getting the respect and recognition they deserve as the gender gap in science closes in, particularly in Brazil and Portugal.

Academic publisher Elsevier recently released a report which analyzed how female scientists are faring all over the world. According to The Economist, the “Gender in the Global Research Landscape” study looked at over 62 million papers published in a span of 20 years from 11 countries in the European Union. The academic papers were reviewed by qualified scientists and covered 27 areas of study.

Female Scientists Are Catching UpCompared to the late 1990s, the number of female authors grew about 40%. Brazil and Portugal are the countries where women are almost equal to men in terms of prominence. Japan lags behind with a mere 1/5 of their researchers being women.

When it comes to field of expertise, it was found that female researchers excelled in the health care subjects. In fact, women in America and Britain outnumbered men in the fields of Nursing and Psychology. However, when it comes to filing and patenting their scientific inventions, it’s still the men who are more aggressive.

Engineering, another male-dominated field, is slowly becoming more receptive to women. Solo female authors only account for 10 to 32%; the good thing is that the number of female study co-authors go as high as 35 to 52%. This means that more women are seen by men as competent partners when writing academic projects and research papers.

Commitment and Follow Through

While the future looks bright for female scientists and researchers, one problem remains. There is a lower retention rate among women researchers than men. Women tend to drop out of their scientific careers more than men do. This could be due to a number of reasons, but it is highly likely that they do in favor of marriage or parenthood.

At Imperial College London, women make up 35% of undergrads. However, that number declines steeply as the women move up in rank and position. Case in point, only 15% of  the college’s professors are women. Imperial is considered as one of the top tech institutions in the country; if women are “marginalized” here, it would make a weak case for women being more visible in the field of science and technology.

The problem is here not about women being recognized for their talents and abilities; or about meeting the approval of their peers. Women are expected to cover for the men when it comes to child care and housework. This is still the norm even in progressive and affluent countries.

As a result, it’s still difficult to paint the picture that being a female scientist is not only cool, but also attainable. Apart from being taught bold ideas and advanced technological concepts, female students should be given positive education – one that combines academics, well-being, and leadership so that women would feel more confident and capable in whatever field of study they choose.

Hybrid Vs Electric Cars, Who’s Dominating The Market?

Electric cars – vehicles you can plug in to charge and run – is still dominating the market and remains the popular choice among young adults. This trend has a bold impact on society and the environment, because it means that drivers and car buyers of the future, will be choosing the all-electric version over their hybrid and diesel counterparts.

The Consumer Federation of America has released the results of a survey comparing the sales of plug-in vehicles and hybrid cars on their first five years in the market. Green Car Reports says plug-ins have done consistently well since its release in December 2010. Hybrid cars, on the other hand, were not as popular given that there was less support and incentives at the time it came out.

Hybrid Vs. Electric Cars

During the first 10 years of hybrid cars, it was seen as elite and impractical, although the reality was that hybrid cars then were less expensive than the first electric car models that came out.

Electric Cars vs HybridThis year, more powerful electric vehicles are expected to roll out the dealership. They don’t only come with longer than 200 mile ranges, the units are also mass-priced. Among them are the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, a second-generation Nissan Leaf, and the much-awaited Tesla Model 3.

If there’s a slight dip in sales in recent months, it’s only because consumers tend to want to wait for the newer models to be released.

Hybrid and electric cars are bold innovations in the transportation industry. It’s a move towards using a more stable energy source and is also a means to minimize carbon footprint which harms the environment. It is a good thing that electric and hybrid cars are now being promoted as the better and preferred mode of transportation.

According to NBC, New York is offering residents a $2,000 rebate to boost the sales and use of electric, hybrid cars, and hydrogen fuel cell cars in the state. The local government has also earmarked $15 million to create charging stations, consumer education and other ways to promote electric car use.  Electric cars are making waves in the automotive market, widening the space for new, bolder developments such as solo electric cars and self-driving technology.

Why Does the US Not Ratify Treaties?

The United States of America has a bizarre and convoluted history when it comes to ratifying UN treaties. The Republican Party has firmly set the tone for how America responds, viewing them as an infringement to US sovereignty.

According to the Economist, a long-standing fear about the UN among conservatives is that the social and economic rights established by their treaties could provoke lawsuits demanding the US government pays out. To address concerns, America generally does not ratify UN treaties and human-rights pacts. They fear they could overrule existing US laws.

In an in-depth opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Jeffrey D. Sachs charts the practice right back to 1973, when the United States passed legislation to protect people with disabilities. This was followed by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This act inspired the member states of the UN to adopt the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. President Barack Obama signed it in 2009.

Why Does the US Not Ratify Treaties?

US - international law - UN treatiesHowever, the US Senate refused to ratify it, voting 61 in favor, 38 against, falling five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification. The 38 Senators in opposition were all Republican. They were under the general impression that ratifying the treaty would “surrender our nation’s sovereignty to unelected UN bureaucrats.”

Despite signing the treaty, which sent out the message that America abides by its contents, by not ratifying it means it’s not legally binding. The United States joined the likes of North Korea, Libya, and Uzbekistan. They are the only countries to have signed but not ratified the treaty out of 160 nations worldwide. Advocates claim that this could lead to America being viewed as out of touch with the rest of the world. It would also hamper its development and progress, and become a hindrance to the United Nations’ efforts of building a better global society.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Another important milestone, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was also thrown out by America, along with Somalia and South Sudan. The treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and became one of the most widely adopted human-rights pacts globally. It set standards for healthcare, education, penal laws and social services, and gives children the right to have a say on what affects them. America signed it in 1995 but never ratified it.

Most American laws are already consistent with UN treaties the US has signed, but not all. A notable exception is the American law which states that under-18s can be jailed for life without parole. The UN rights of the child treaty prohibits unfair, cruel and degrading punishment, so ratification might force changes to this law. Laws on corporal punishment would also have to change in some states. However, UN treaties can make a positive impact on America’s legal system. Participation in the UN treaty on child soldiers prompted America to abolish the deployment of under-18s in military operations.

Is US Simply Stubborn?

According to the Boston Globe, the list of global agreements in which the United States refuses to participate is long. It’s also growing. The United States has stayed out of the “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1991), the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty (1997), the Ottawa Land Mine Treaty (1997), and the International Criminal Court (1998), among many others”. In each case, the main argument is that treaty membership would limit US sovereignty.

The Senate’s aversion to UN Treaties has become so intense that not one has been ratified in the past decade, and only one on cybercrime has been ratified in the past 15 years. Critics say there are no signs that the situation will improve. Reformists fear the Trump administration will increase its defense to global law. It will further shy away from the United Nations.

Only time will tell if the trend will buck, but judging by President Trump’s ‘law and order’ rhetoric, and nationalization policy, it’s highly unlikely that the United States will abide by international laws, or give up its sovereignty to a global organization like the United Nations.