A neuro-hacker tells us why opening up scientific research is critical

Register or Login to like
Register or Login to like
neon sign with head outline and open source why spelled out


Pete Herzog began an article he wrote for opensource.com last year about Hacker Highschool by saying:

It might sound strange, but every industry and profession could benefit from an employee as creative, resourceful, and motivated as a hacker. 

You see, Pete is not only motivated by what open source and open thinking can do to change our world, he is moved by it. He tell us that his passions change every few years, but always revolve around open source. 

Right now, he's working on an open source project called: Smarter Safer Better, a study and research (what he calls, neuro-hacking) on trust. Read more about his work on the subject: What They Don't Teach You in "Thinking Like the Enemy" Classes and Mind Control.

The Basics

  • Name: Pete Herzog
  • Opensource.com username: peteherzog
  • Location: Barcelona, Spain
  • Occupation/Employer/Position: Managing Director, ISECOM
  • Open source connection: I manage an open research organization. We use open source software and we make our research open to all.
  • Favorite open source tool or application: Smarter Safer Better Toolkit
  • Favorite opensource.com channel: Life

Community Spotlight

Open up to us.

I'm the co-founder and Managing Director of the non-profit, open, security research organization, ISECOM. I'm American but currently live in Europe, more specifically a mountain village near Barcelona. My current passion is hacking neurobiology, specifically tweaking things like what makes people fall for fraud, lose willpower, lie, cheat, trust too much, etc. The mind is so complex and so interesting that there's no shortage of new research and best of all, there's no shortage of research subjects around either!

I have four kids, so I'm also constantly researching child and teen neural development and of course testing theories out—mostly with great results. So I've been building an open toolkit for a while on how to rebuild the brain to be a fantastic, alert, anomaly detector. Along the way, we pass off this research into other projects like Hacker Highschool, to teach kids how to take control of their world. We use trust metrics for unbiased measurement and the Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual for security testing. 

One of my favorite research platforms is the Bad People Project where we get a lot of insight about how kids develop their ideas about safety. One way they find out is by asking them to show us what they think is a "bad person."

What open tools and data help you get things done, and how do they help you?

Pretty much everything I have and use is open source, so I can't possibly mention them all. A special thanks though specifically to Libre Office or else I wouldn't have gotten anything ever written. I just feel bad that I can't properly contribute to the projects I use. That just wouldn't be possible. But I do make sure everyone I work with knows what I use so we can collaborate.

What do you wish were more open?

Medical and scientific research, including the test results and data from failed research and dead-ends. Maybe especially the data from dead-ends. I get it that research costs money and that publishing research that will make no money will just cost more money. But maybe we can figure a way to make it happen anyway.

What are the biggest challenges to openness that you encounter, either at work or in your life?

Open means different things to different people. This is my biggest problem. Some feel that the whole life cycle of a project should be open. Some think all open source is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and are against any kind of money being made on it. Some think all open source should mean it can be repackaged and resold by anyone for a profit. And some would call that abuse.

At ISECOM, we've encountered our share of all of this at different stages of our use of open source. It puts you in a tough place where you want to make it freely available, but you need to pay for the resources behind it as well. When you're project is small you don't have a community to help you so you have no time. But when your project is big, you don't have the resources you need and you need to figure out how to make money to go on.

The money stuff is the hardest mostly because I'd reckon that like me, most opensourcers don't go into this with any idea on the cost of time and paying the bills.

Why choose the open source way?

For research, open is just more true. In this world, it seems like everyone and everything has an agenda. When it comes to research, an agenda that conflicts with the truth of that research is just plain evil. Too many people lie and fudge research because it means more money, fame, etc. So if it's not open, we can't grow as a society or even as a civilization. We need research to be open, or else good ideas will get lost in the marketplace in favor of quicker, cheaper, faster, shinier ideas that aren't necessarily better or "the right thing."

For people, we are all interconnected. So if you can make a software, app, document, whatever that's available openly to others to use, build upon, grow upon, then you are giving a helping hand to all those out there in different fields and different lives whose great things became a little more possible because you left your project open for them to lean from.

Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.


I think it's especially interesting that he's interested in research and data from dead-ends and failed experiments. That's such a great point to bring up.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.