How I Work Open: Ben Marwick

photo of Ben Marwick

Ben Marwick
Associate Professor
Anthropology

How would you describe your research?

I do Paleolithic archaeology, mainly in Southeast Asia.  This includes looking at the movement of modern humans into that area and how they contribute to populations further down the line. I’m also interested in how they’ve adapted to environmental problems – for example, human behavioral ecology and how they’ve used technology to adapt to changes in the landscape.

What kind of open work do you do?

While part of my archeology work consists of traditional activities like excavation, fieldwork, and surveying, another is part is computer-based. Much of my effort is focused on making the computational work done in the lab open and transparent, because in the field what we’re doing is automatically open. Anyone can come by and see what we’re doing. But in the lab, it’s much harder to engage the public and colleagues in that work.

So I focus my efforts in three areas. The first is in sharing the data – things like measurements we collect with instruments, or observations we make. The second area is making my code and methods open. For me, it’s always possible to have open code, because I’m not going to patent, or copyright anything. But open data is not always something I can achieve. I was just working with an Aboriginal community who asked me not to share the data I gathered. It contained the locations of a bunch of archaeological sites, and they were concerned that those sites would be vulnerable to theft. It would have been unethical to violate the agreement I have with the community and say I don’t care about their concerns. But I make my data open whenever possible. Continue reading