Openness is Essential Freedom: Interview with Vedran Vucic

Vedran Vucic (voo-tcheech) is a Linux afficionado in Serbia. He and his organization have gone all around Serbia, wired up the schools, taught the teachers and students how to use Linux, taught the teachers and students how to use various online educational resources ranging from blogs to ATutor, etc. Vedran also gives technical support to about 30 Serbian bloggers whose work he also aggregates. He is now putting a lot of energy into persuading scientists, especially the young, not-yet-entrenched ones, to go online and to promote Open Access. It is an uphill battle, but he is persistent! At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Vedran led a session on Overcoming obstacles to Open Science in the developing world.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?

I am working in the Linux Center. Linux Center is non-profit organization dedicated to promotion of free software in Serbia. It is very logical for us that we support free access to information and knowledge. We see open access repositories, free software, science and education blogs and open hardware, web accessibility as milestones for the development of Serbia. I am involved in a variety of ways in implementation of free software in the last 13 years in media, NGOs, culture, arts, schools, support to people with disabilities.

What do you want to do/be when you grow up?

Although I am 43, it seems to me that I will never grow up. I think that I will always have general trust in people, community, support, solidarity without frontiers. Some people think that it is childish. So, if that it is really childish I hope that I will be always a happy child.

How did you get interested in promoting everything Open: Open Source, Open Classroom, Open Science?

I really think free software, open access, open classroom, open science, web accessibility, open hardware are very important milestones for our planet. There is still too much poverty, unjust activities, violence in the world. I think that citizens themselves can contribute a lot to promote knowledge, the development, education, freedom. Phenomena as free software, open science etc. are not just scientific and technological terms. They are very powerful social, political tools too. Contemporary politicians should understand that and give up the traditional political tools such as economic conditioning, military influence, sluggish support, creation of dependent communities. Instead, they should promote horizontal diplomacy which is based on freedom of sharing, support, fostering solidarity and treating others as assets rather than as customers and/or clients.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference? Are there any science blogs in Serbia that you recommend?

I really like the idea of blogs. Actually, internet belongs to people and people should use it to communicate and share experience, knowledge, opinion. Besides many interesting personal blogs that connected many people, I think that it is enormously important that scientific community is going to be open too. Science and technology may become, if not communicative and open, an ideology of unscrupulous elites that may have detrimental effects on security, economic development, gap between countries. Thus, openness of science is not only a manner of good will, it is essential freedom exercised to foster mutual development.

I see there are more and more bloggers in Serbia, but they tend not to use the platforms common in the West (Blogspot, Typepad, Wordpress) and I do not see them (even when they write in English) well integrated into European and global blogosphere. Any thoughts on why that may be the case?

i-5d67e21743f8a698b76dd1687ce0cd54-Vedran interview pic.jpgI think that there are more and more wordpress, nucleus and other platforms that people tend to use. While writing this reply to you I am helping a group of NGOs to set up their portal and blog about inclusive education. We use Nucleus :)

There is an aggregator on that aggregates posts from approx. 30 blogs based on wordpress and many science blogs worldwide. In two weeks there will be another aggregator of blogs that will be focused on information related with disabilities, web accessibility, human rights of people with disabilities etc.

However, I would like to see much more such projects. On the other side, Internet is not so developed in Serbia and people are not yet used to Internet and computer keyboards as usual way of communication. In some cases professors on faculties and even some departments of hospitals do not have computers at all.

Albeit, this is not excuse, it is a fact. But, we have to do more in order to overcome that fact and promote more openness. Seminars, conferences, mirror servers, mutual visits and other events may be very helpful in promoting cooperation in the field of science blogging.

You have gone around Serbia and wired schools to the Internet, installed Linux and taught teachers and students how to use it. Can you tell us a little more about that entire project?

We have visited so far tens of schools and presented to them what free software may do and how it can be used in schools. Specialized distributions such as Explora, Edubuntu, VigyaanCD, Quantian, CAE Linux, GNU/Musix, DyneBolic etc. may be very important educational tool in schools. It is not enough to teach, localize and install free software. In addition, it is very important to write proper documentation. We are finishing, these days, a manual for teachers of computer science for music schools so they can use free software and learn about sound, music, databases, web applications, openoffice, image editing, burning CDs, streaming audio. Detailed documentation will help teachers and the students too to use it properly and get really full control over their computers and operating systems.

We paid special attention to help teachers to learn more about web accessibility and using accessible learning tools so the kids with disabilities may have access to learning materials. In Serbia, many disabled kids do not complete secondary schools and just a few complete faculties [university]. Thus, we recommend ATutor as a tool to store, publish, manage educational activities since ATutor is created with accessibility guidelines in mind.

At the Conference, you led a session on The Obstacles to Open Science in the Developing World. Can you summarize here briefly, what are those obstacles? Are they primarily structural (e.g., lack of electricity, computer or Internet access) or is the social fear of openness (perhaps protection of power structure, nepotism, etc.) a bigger obstacle for the spread of Open Access Publishing, science blogs, etc.?

Obstacles are sometimes very big, but also, in many cases, big obstacles may be overcome by many small efforts. Many activities related with improvement of the educational system, health care, culture, transfer of knowledge and technologies may be done by using science and education blogs. For example, Serbia and Albania have the highest rates of infectious diseases in their populations. Many women in Serbia die because of cervical cancer which is not so hard to prevent. Thus, access to information related to health, education, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, human rights, work with people with disabilities, environment may be helpful in solving hard issues that keep people in misery, bad health, uneducated and potentially prone to destructive political movements.

I think that media can do a lot in promoting openness and that access points to scientific and educational materials may be set up. Thus, small kiosks, computer classrooms and tele-centres with access to information and knowledge may be very helpful in overcoming existing fear from openness.

Is there anything that happened at the Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

Oh, I liked the people there. It was very encouraging to me to see such a great number of scientists that are so concerned with social responsibility. The whole conference for me was that "particular session". As I emphasized in the session that I moderated:"Blogs are not just places with scientific information. They do have mobilizing effect and they are very important social phenomena".

It was great and inspiring to be part of the conference and be sure that science blogging movement is growing.

It was so nice to finally meet you, thank you for bringing the package from my Mom all across the ocean, and thank you for the interview.



Check out all the interviews in this series.


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I'll add that Vedran didn't expect to be running the session, but took over at the last minute because of an unforseen glitch -- and did a wonderful job!

That session had a lasting effect on me -- I find myself fascinated (and not really in a good way) by the idea of people unable to solve soluble problems because of a lack of access to information -- access that we in the "developed world" take for granted.

I can't inline images in comments here, so there's another picture of Vedran, from his presentation, here.

And here is another story of the kind that Vedran tells, of people willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get information that I can get from home with a couple of clicks...