I've long been interested in issues of trust and meaning, particularly in regard to scientific information. The importance of context, the "who, when, where, why" of any piece of information, is critical in determining first whether we even learn of that information, and second the degree to which we accept it as part of our base of knowledge about the world.
Historian and philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote a book on the subject (titled Trust). Ironically, while I felt some interest in it, I haven't read it because of my reaction to an earlier book of his (The End of History) - which I also didn't read. But anybody who could write a book with that title and the apparent thesis that all the interesting debates and conflicts regarding forms of government were somehow in the past was, I decided, not really worth my time. Thanks to just that cue, my level of trust in his ideas fell essentially to zero, and I haven't read what might otherwise have been very interesting to me. Or perhaps not if my judgment was justified.
Trust is fragile, hard to gain and easily lost. Which was why I found a recent post on science and journalism by Scientific American blogger Bora Zivkovic (who I've followed for a long time as @BoraZ on twitter) a little annoying.
The US Department of Homeland Security issued a draft report proposing a National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace this past weekend. I found the document intriguing in the context of some of my thoughts on trust and identity, and my own recent participation in the ORCID project to create an identity standard for authors and other contributors to scientific research publications.
The draft report comes with a call for public commentary, and there are already some interesting comments that have made me think a little harder about what we're all trying to do here. The time seems ripe for some sort of digital identity standard, but there are an awful lot of concerns that need to be addressed. There are solutions that can be imposed from above (say a government-issued physical id token that connects to trusted infrastructure to identify who you are) but they all have somewhat draconian police-state implications anathema to a free society. We do all have social security numbers or something like that of course (drivers license numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers, ...) - but the number isn't sufficient. Anybody who knows a valid number can use it, whether it's there's or not - identity theft is a real problem. Digital identity as it stands right now consists of many disjoint associations like those many different numbers associated with a given individual, each with its own set of risks and burden in upkeep.
So the scheme proposed in the draft report for a more open "identity ecosystem" was something I found very interesting and encouraging.
The US Office of Science and Technology Policy has been hosting a discussion on federal open-access publishing policy on their blog. A lot of interesting commentary, although a little overly dominated by Stevan Harnad up to now (but this is exactly up his alley). I think the choices that have been largely looked at though, so far, are too narrow in scope - basically doing something like a big "arxiv.org" or PubMed project on the one hand, or fostering institutional repositories on the other, or some sort of combination. What we really want is not just opening future research, but also expanding access to the vast body of existing research articles - and not just for federally funded US research, but as far as possible, for all of it.