August 6, 2007

Scifoo day two: Good Morning Mashup

Vince Smith, Brian Berman, Paul Ginsparg, Linda Miller, John SantiniSome of the most interesting conversations you have at Science Foo Camp (scifoo) are in the corridors, foo bars and even the bus that shuttles between the Googleplex and the hotel…On Saturday, for example, I ride the bus with David Hawkins who is a laywer working in the area of climate change. He tells me all about the legal issues, how climate modelling works and little on Bjørn Lomborg, who is also here. I tell him about workflows on the web and bioinformatics. We work in completely different areas, and we’d never normally meet. But in a short conversation, we manage to learn a little from each other and find connections. The problems that climateprediction.net face, turn out to be quite similar to the problems that genomics faces in integrating data on the web. When we arrive at the Googleplex, it’s time for Open Science…

9.30am: open science 2.0: where we are, where we’re going

After a quick breakfast at Googley’s, I head off to a session on Open Science 2.0. This session is game of two halves, the first half there is much talk of how publishing is a roadblock to many things we would like to achieve with science on the web. Peter Murray-Rust talks of “conservative chemistry”, where (un-named) publishers are the problem, not the solution and block the whole of the University of Cambridge for accessing content in unapproved ways (text-mining). Paul Sereno and Chemist Carl Djerassi discuss the importance of publications in getting jobs and tenure at Stanford. There is talk of the dangerous power of editors of journals, who ultimately decide careers that they are blind too. They don’t just accept papers when they publish, they make and break people’s livelihoods. Andrew Walkingshaw tells of a common perception amongst young scientists about the importance of the h-index and other publication metrics. Eric Lander points out that publication isn’t everything for young scientists, a lot of it comes down to letters of recommendation in job applications and this fact is often overlooked by young scientists. Pamela Silver talks of how the publish or perish mentality is slow like molasses, and sends many talented young scientists at Harvard (and elsewhere) running and screaming from academia into the arms of anywhere else that will have them, often Google Inc.! This is a great loss to science. We move on to Open Access, Tim Hubbard, head of informatics at Sanger tells how the Wellcome Trust insists any publications that arise from its funded research projects must be freely available within six months after publication. Jonathan Eisen talks of different types of open access, which is not just about reading papers for free, but reusing them for free too, as in Creative Commons. Somebody possibly Richard Jefferson, talks of a reputation engine called Carmleon? (not sure of spelling).

All of this can make young scientists risk averse and paranoid, which is bad. The only people who can take risks are established scientists, which is a shame. But the discussion takes a u-turn when Paul Ginsparg (arXiv.org) and Dave Carlson, point out we should be having fun not moaning about publishing. We didn’t all come here to whinge, we should be talking about the technology that will enable us to break the publishing roadblock and make science a better place to live, work and play. On this note, Bora Zivkovic tells of publication turnaround times at PLOS, which are now “9 weeks not 9 months”. This is great for young scientists, who often don’t have time to wait for the glacial turnaround times of many publishing companies. He asks what would cyber infrastructure look like in 2015? Jean-Claude Bradley, gives a demo of Usefulchem, see for example this experiment. Tools like blogs and wikis will play a central role and make important contributions in this area.


Science is becoming more open, but it will be a slow evolution not a rapid revolution. We’re heading in the right direction, some of the tools for doing it are beginning to work. PLOS asks people to be courageous and send their papers in, this can be a gamble, when scientists often favour the old favourites of Nature, Science and PNAS. This session was typical of scifoo, its a mashup of different ideas from very different people working in different areas. It doesn’t always summarise neatly, but thats life. A session on this came later on, called the Culture of Fear: led by Andrew Walkingshaw and Alex Palazzo.

[This post originally published on nodalpoint]

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