How Citizen Science Changed the Way Fukushima Radiation is Reported

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Photos By Ari Beser

Tokyo – “It appears the world-changing event didn’t change anything, and it’s disappointing,”said Pieter Franken, a researcher at Keio University in Japan (Wide Project), the MIT Media Lab (Civic Media Centre), and co-founder of Safecast, a citizen-science network dedicated to the measurement and distribution of accurate levels of radiation around the world, especially in Fukushima. “There was a chance after the disaster for humanity to innovate our thinking about energy, and that doesn’t seem like it’s happened. But what we can change is the way we measure the environment around us.”

Franken and his founding partners found a way to turn their email chain, spurred by the tsunami, into Safecast; an open-source network that allows everyday people to contribute to radiation-monitoring.

“We literally started the day after the earthquake happened,” revealed Pieter. “A friend of mine, Joi Ito, the director of MIT Media Lab, and I were basically talking about what Geiger counter to get. He was in Boston at the time and I was here in Tokyo, and like the rest of the world, we were worried, but we couldn’t get our hands on anything. There’s something happening here, we thought. Very quickly as the disaster developed, we wondered how to get the information out. People were looking for information, so we saw that there was a need. Our plan became: get information, put it together and deseminate it.”

An e-mail thread between Franken, Ito, and Sean Bonner, (co-founder of CRASH Space, a group that bills itself as Los Angeles’ first hackerspace), evolved into a network of minds, including members of Tokyo Hackerspace, Dan Sythe, who produced high-quality Geiger counters, and Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s former Chief Technical Officer. On April 15, the group that was to become Safecast sat down together for the first —> Read More

Weekend Roundup: Mutiny Against the Status Quo

At this stage in the American election season it is far from clear, despite early wins and losses, who the presidential nominees will be. As Julian Baggini writes, what is certain is that America, like much of Europe, is experiencing a mutiny against the status quo. The populist revolt against political and economic elites is spreading across borders everywhere except — so far — East Asia, where the prospects of the average person have risen instead of fallen over the past decade.

Behind the anger against the establishment is a constellation of factors that bleed into each other: the widespread conviction that the present system has become grossly unfair since the 2008-2009 financial crisis as incomes stagnate for most while wealth accumulates at the top; pervasive insecurity created by slow growth combined with rapid, job-displacing technological advance and wage-depressing globalization and, finally, a sense of identity loss as both the real and imagined scale of immigration challenges familiar ways of life.

As if a once upwardly mobile society now rigged against the middle class were not enough, everybody knows that the election process in the U.S., which is supposed to allow for self-correction in a democracy, has itself become corrupt. Jaded citizens have caught on to the fact that when big money rules over the many, when contributors count more than constituents, voting is a form of disenfranchisement disguised as consent of the governed.

When too many are excluded and too few benefit from the status quo, the governing consensus can no longer command allegiance. People look outside the mainstream for alternatives that fit their experience, answer their anxieties and suit their prejudices. Thus we see a range of rage that extends from nativist, xenophobic scapegoating of the even less fortunate to a passionate embrace —> Read More

Obama Administration Proposes Smaller NASA Budget of $19 Billion for Fiscal Year 2017 with Big Exploration Cuts

NASA releases budget request for Fiscal Year 2017. Credit: NASA

The Obama Administration has announced its new Federal budget and is proposing to cut NASA’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget to $19 billion by carving away significant funding for deep space exploration, whereas the overall US Federal budget actually increases to over $4.1 trillion.This 2017 budget request amounts to almost $300 million less than the recently enacted NASA budget for 2016 and specifically stipulates deep funding cuts for deep space exploration programs involving both humans and robots, during President Obama’s final year in office.The 2017 budget proposal would slash funding to the very programs designed to expand the frontiers of human knowledge and aimed at propelling humans outward to the Red Planet and robots to a Jovian moon that might be conducive to the formation of life.Absent sufficient funding to keep NASA’s exploration endeavors on track, further launch delays are almost certainly inevitable.The administration is specifying big funding cuts to the ongoing development of NASA’s mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket and the state of the art Orion deep space crew capsule. They are the essential first ingredients to carry out NASA’s ambitious plans to send astronauts on deep space ‘Journey to Mars’ expeditions during the 2030s.The overall Exploration Systems Development account for human deep space mission would be slashed about 18 percent from the 2016 funding level; from $4.0 Billion to only $3.3 Billion, or nearly $700 million.SLS alone is reduced the most by $700 million from $2.0 billion to $1,31 billion, or a whopping 35 percent loss. Orion is reduced from $1.27 billion to $1.12 billion for a loss of some $150 million.Make no mistake. These programs are already starved for funding and the Obama administration tried to force similar cuts to these programs in 2016, until Congress intervened.Likewise, the Obama —> Read More

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