September 4, 2008

Famous for fifteen people

Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol (and oddsock)The artist Andy Warhol once said:

“In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes”.

This well worn saying has been quoted and misquoted in hundreds of different ways in the forty years since Warhol first coined it [1].

Bad Scientist Ben Goldacre, in his keynote speech* at Science Blogging (sciblog) 2008, highlighted one of these deliberate misquotes, which he attributed to NTK.net (Need To Know: Britain’s most sarcastic high-tech weekly newsletter). It goes a little something like this:

“On the internet everybody can be world famous for fifteen people“.

This wonderful expression captures the nature and scale of science blogging on the internet today in a nutshell. Personally, I think it also sums up much of the spirit of the Science Blogging 2008 conference as well. In total, around eight groups of fifteen people, attended the conference. It was physically impossible to talk to all of them in one day, especially since I had to slink off early at 7pm, but I did manage to meet the following people:

Fifteen random people I’ve never met before

Fifteen people I’ve never met before (virtually or actually), nice to meet you all!

  1. Martin Robbins of leyscience.net
  2. Jeff Marlow, rocket scientist, starting PhD at Caltech working on the next mission to Mars (wow!). Currently working at Imperial College London (and absorbing soccer football culture – but has given up on understanding cricket – I don’t blame you mate!)
  3. Scott Kier, Royal Society, who hosted an enjoyable and lively unconference session “bored of blogging: how to keep motivated
  4. Jenny Beard British Association for the Advancement of Science, see the Fantastic Big Question web site, e.g. Will the LHC in CERN create a black hole, and why should we NOT be worried about it? Ian Mulvany isn’t convinced
  5. Ed Yong Cancer Research UK, not exactly a rocket scientist, see European genes mirror european geography
  6. Prateek Buch, University College London Genetics / clinical trials, is he obsessed with penises? Probably, aren’t all blokes obsessed with the size of their manhood?
  7. Hungarian biologist Victor Poór who draws funny cartoons
  8. Edinburgh e-CAT electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) bloke whose exact name and software I’ve forgotten. Damn. Rory Macneil was his name.
  9. Coracle (takes his name from a gene/protein he worked on in fruit flies), when he is away from the bench he hangs around at badscience.net
  10. Marco Boscolo, Bologna, Italy XML is his DJ
  11. Biologist-cum-statistician Bob O’Hara, who looks nothing like the cat shown in his profile picture.
  12. Government bods from DIUS, must have been Mike Rose? probably and Steph Gray definitely, see DIUS sciblog report. I liked the demo of how to embed funky DIUS widgets in your website (techie note to self: WordPress strips out <script> tags so I can’t embed widgets here. Doh!
  13. Hilary Spencer(?), Nature New York, she must be the person responsible for sanity checking submissions for managing the development of Nature Precedings
  14. Victor Henning, who works on Mendeley which helps you to “manage, share and discover academic knowledge”.
  15. Bronwen Dekker, who works on Nature Protocols, see picture of the Dekkers (who kindly obliged my very amateur photography)

Fifteen people I met in person (at last!)

Fifteen people I finally met in person, having virtually “met” online by reading their publications, blog posts or through email contact.

  1. Raf Aerts (Raffa), Tropical Ecologist, had an interesting chat with him about the Ethiopian mountains, where he does his field work, home to the bone-dropping Lammergayers. Makes me wish I’d never given up field work.
  2. Alexsander Griekspoor, who now works on Mekentosj.com and “Papers” full-time
  3. Henry Gee, the croc-wearing phenomenon and sciblographer
  4. Richard P. Grant (RPG), University of Sydney, (Note to self: find out how he convinced his department heads to pay for his round-the-world trip!). Not to be confused with RPG or Richard E. Grant (women tell me the latter isn’t as sexy)
  5. Roland Krause, finally we meet for real to take notes from the biomass
  6. Graham Steel, Journal of Visualised Experiments (JOVE) blogger (we are all scientists now) I think we have the same sense of humour. Must be a Scottish thing, I’m sure I’ve got some scottish in me somewhere (not just in my name). While I don’t have a visible ginger gene, I sometimes get tingles down my spine when I hear bagpipes. Also, after several pints of Deuchars IPA, I can even sound like I’m scottish too. Och aye! Does that make me Scottish?
  7. Maxine Clark, Nature editor extraordinaire “the world needs more editors”! (not scientists?)
  8. Heather Etchevers, France, who is wondering what to do with all her conference notes
  9. Chemist and informatician Egon Willighagen, see his sciblog report
  10. Li Kim Lee, runs Nature Network London
  11. Matt Brown, runs Nature Network London and organised a scientific pub crawl in London town. Mr. Barman, I’d like five pints of your finest beer science, preferably the bitter English variety, not the fizzy American or continental european stuff.
  12. Brian Clegg who came out with one of my favourite quotes from the conference, “there aren’t too many scientists in the world, there are too many biologists. What the world needs is more physicists, chemists, mathematicians, engineers etc” – or words to that effect. Discuss. He also argues that Scientists alone aren’t enough to communicate science to the general public. Hmmmm.
  13. Jennifer Rohn, partly responsible for lablit.com when she’s not pondering the celebrity geek phenomenon
  14. Martin Fenner, see his His Paper Writing Dream Machine version 1.0
  15. Matt Wood, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute informatics-type. I’m glad somebody likes my impact factor boxing joke. Ha ha, where’s the punchline? I’m looking forward to seeing the Sanger bioinformatics demo up at Amazon Web Services (with hadoop) sometime soon and hopefully attending Bar Camp in Cambridge (BarCamb) next year, which Matt organises.

Fifteen people I’ve met before

Fifteen people I’ve met before, good to catch up

  1. Euan Adie, Nature (but no relation to Kate), he has seen the future and its bakeable, pass me the futuristic cheesey snacks Euan!
  2. Scintillator Alf Eaton, Nature, hublogger and hubmedder
  3. Ian Mulvany, Nature, responsible for connotea (Ian, Alf, Euan: thanks for the free lunch!)
  4. Timo Hannay, Nature, manages all the webby people.
  5. Chemist Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge
  6. Chemist Jean-Claude Bradley. We are looking forward to your gig in Manchester tomorrow.
  7. Aussie Chemist Cameron Neylon, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) and University of Southampton, blogs at OpenWetWare
  8. Mind Hacker Vaughan Bell, who helped me understand the crucial differences between the Royal Society and the Royal Institution (I’ll tell you later). He’s off to Colombia, not Columbia the University in North America , but Colombia the country in South America (it sounds very similar in spoken language). Bon voyage, Vaughan.
  9. The totally zen Mike Barton, busy releasing bioinformatics survey results (under a CC-BY license of course)
  10. Anna Kushnir, Nature (but not a big fan of PubMed). You and me both.
  11. Corie Lok, Nature, organises Nature Network Boston
  12. Attila Csordas, who likes the “equalising” effect of blogging. Oh yes indeed.
  13. Andrew Walkingshaw, see his talk on Linked data and scientific publishing, is the “linked data” bandwagon just a rebadged and repackaged semantic web? I dunno. Discuss.
  14. Oh b*ggeration! (imaginary friend 1)…
  15. …I can’t quite fill this list to fifteen (imaginary friend 2)

Fifteen people I didn’t meet

Fifteen people I didn’t get the chance to speak to, maybe next time. So many people, so little time…

  1. Marc West, a podcaster responsible for the Mr. Science Show
  2. Ben Goldacre, medic and journalist, I’ve got a stack of nerdy questions about badscience.net and big bad pharma that will have to wait for another time
  3. Simon Frantz, one of the people behind the nobelprize.org website
  4. Clare Dudman Keeper of the snails, did a great session on creativity
  5. Gia Millinovich so how come we rarely see you and your hubby Professor Brian Cox in Manchester?
  6. Those Digital Curation Centre (DCC) people (Martin Donnelly?) look interesting, eg. Digital Curation Blog: How to make repositories a killer app for scientists.
  7. Professor David Colquhoun FRS. One of a handful of Professors (of Science) with a blog, and I’m pretty sure the only Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) with a blog.
  8. Aussie journalist Zoë Corbyn from Times Higher Education, didn’t get the chance to hassle her about writing that myexperiment news article soon.
  9. David Bradley of Science Base
  10. Oliver Obst head of the medical library of the University of Munster, see Science Blogging 2008 London: Nachmittag (Ja!)
  11. Gavin Bell, Nature, hand held blogger
  12. Charlotte Stoddart, podcaster (or should that be “podder”?), see her podcasting Ben Goldacre here
  13. Simon Hughes, British Library
  14. Dr Aust who likes to vent his spleen
  15. Brain Duck who is trying to understand uncertainty blogs over at brainduck.wordpress.com

Actually there are a lot more than fifteen people I’d like to meet, there is the other sixty as well.

Fifteen Science Professors blogging?

Phew! That’s four groups of fifteen people, around half the total conference attendance. A very interdisciplinary bunch, just like leafing through a copy of Nature, you get genetics on one page, climate change on the next followed by missions to Mars to wrap it all up. I think this is something special that makes Nature and Nature Network unique.

The striking thing is, with a few exceptions, most conference attendees, nature networkers and bloggers are relatively young. Why don’t more senior scientists blog? This is a challenge Timo Hannay and PMR posed at the end of the conference, “get more senior scientists blogging”. There is a BIG prize up for grabs, an all expenses paid trip to the next Science Foo Camp (scifoo) in the Googleplex, California (August 2009). Details to be posted online soon. Maybe this will mean science blogging 2009 will have fifteen senior Professors in the audience?

And finally, if you are one of the ~ fifteen (or so) people subscribed to and reading this O’Really? blog, thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy my random ramblings, I certainly enjoy writing them. For any Professors out there reading this (I know a few that do), when will you start blogging? Now, blogging is no substitute for peer-review, but it certainly fills some of the gaping holes that traditional scientific publishing leaves in the web. What are you waiting for?


  1. Andy Warhol (1968). (volume released to mark his exhibition in Stockholm, February–March, 1968). “Warhol, Andy” The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Ed. Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Reference Online.
  2. Journal of the Hyperlinked Organisation (JOHO) famous to fifteen people
  3. Wikipedia: Fifteen minutes of fame
  4. Discussion on this post over at friendfeed and on nature network too.
  5. Pop Stars? Nein Danke! In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people…, thanks to Heather Etchevers

* A video of Ben Goldacre’s talk should be available online soon.

(Creative Commons licensed picture of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol, “stolen” from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York by oddsock)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Linked Data is *absolutely* a rebranded, repackaged Semantic Web, with more data and less OWL. I think that’s a good thing, though – it’s technology you can use to build interesting, useful stuff now, and it fits with the architecture of the Web as we use it.

    So it’s the bits of the Semantic Web that work right now. 🙂

    Comment by Andrew Walkingshaw — September 4, 2008 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

  2. I’ll make more effort to get on your “I met in person (at last!)” list next year, promise. Nice spin on Dr Goldacre’s reference, by the way…I did think about listing everyone, but didn’t. I’m compiling an OPML of all attendees newsfeeds though and will post that as soon as it’s validated.

    Comment by David Bradley — September 4, 2008 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  3. Great post, Duncan. I loved reading it.
    You did not say in my bit above that my first words to you were “your hair is lovely”, maybe you were sparing my blushes, but it really is, best hair of the Science Blogging conference without a doubt.
    I think you must be rather gallant, also, because I am certainly not young. It is an open secret that I am 150. But I suppose you are correct, that most people at the meeting (thinking of exceptions: David C., Peter M-R) were sapling-like.
    A group or two of 15 is meeting up again to discuss the broader topic of science 2.0 — at the British Library in London on the eve of 24 Sept — hope you will be able to make that.

    Fifteen people who were at Sci Blog and whom I met but (possibly, from your post) you didn’t:
    Martin Fenner
    Petra (Prof Mrs M.F.) (A 150-year-old tends to forget surnames)
    Steffi Suhr
    Sarah Kemmitt
    Barbara Axt
    Barbara Kiser
    Daniel Cressey (Great Beyond blog for Nature news team)
    Grrl Scientist
    Sid Rodriguez
    Joanne Baker (Nature Books&Arts editor) (aargh! another editor)
    Stephen Curry
    The other Victor who isn’t Victor Poor
    Jenny Rohn
    Ruth Wilson
    Dominka Trzaska.

    Comment by maxine — September 4, 2008 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  4. Oops, I see you have Jenny Rohn. Erika Cule, then.

    Comment by maxine — September 4, 2008 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  5. @Maxine, thanks. Are you sure my hair is better than Henry Gee‘s barnet? And what about Grrl Scientist, she should be a member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS)? Yes, I am already a member!

    Comment by Duncan — September 4, 2008 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  6. Hey Duncan – thanks for the shout-out! Next time you’re in London, you should drop me a line, so we can have an unvirtual beer in an unvirtual pub!

    Best wishes,

    Comment by Victor — September 4, 2008 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  7. Hello! Well, I don’t *live* in Manchester. Brian does. 🙂

    Anyway, I left halfway through the day due to childcare issues, then came back and spent most of the night talking to Sid Rodriguez. So, I guess we’ll have to meet next time!

    Comment by Gia — September 4, 2008 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  8. Greetings Clan Duncan from Clan Hamilton.

    My Uncle Ian (and yes, we are actually related – my Father’s side) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_of_Scone is, er, rather Scottish.

    Excellent post about sciblog and we must do a beer or two next time we meet.

    Comment by Graham Steel — September 4, 2008 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  9. Hi Duncan – It was lovely to meet you as well! One slight correction – I am not responsible for sanity checking submissions to Precedings, but for managing the development of the site. So if you have feature requests, reports of problems, etc, I’m your contact!

    Comment by Hilary — September 4, 2008 @ 11:20 pm | Reply

  10. I am just jealous of all ye folks and of Duncan’s writing skills. Some of you Euro’s should make it to Science Online09 in RTP in January.

    as for Linked Data, what Andrew said, and it’s very good. I quite like the idea of focusing on the data, and the web and a little less on the vocabularies.

    Comment by Deepak — September 5, 2008 @ 6:46 am | Reply

  11. Thanks for the shoutout, too, Duncan. But I must quibble with the above opinions and say that BrainDuck’s hair (feathers) beats everyone else’s. You’re right on with your approach to the post, about meeting the ones you knew – physically, online, and not meeting some of the others, yet being in the same room with similar experiences. It was lots of fun.

    Also, the original “15 people” quote may well come from an artist/writer who works with Wired, called Momus. As I’m not sure about html format I’ll just paste the link to the post here: http://imomus.com/index499.html and to Nick Currie’s persona here: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/commentary/imomus/2007/05/imomus_0508

    Comment by Alethea — September 6, 2008 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  12. No comment on Henry Gee’s hair – or even feet 😉

    Comment by maxine — September 7, 2008 @ 9:06 am | Reply

  13. ‘Brain Duck who is trying to understand uncertainty’

    V kind, but actually I write http://brainduck.wordpress.com/ , which started as an attempt for me to stop boring people at parties with all the cool stuff I was learning as a psychology undergrad, & has turned out to be mostly about looking at the evidence around the odder bits of Educational Psychology – Ben mentioned my tangles with ‘Dore’ ‘dyslexia miracle cure’ in the keynote.

    I’m not sure whether that means you’d like to meet me or the author of Understanding Uncertainty, but I tend to hang around on ‘Bad Science’ forums.


    Comment by brainduck — September 9, 2008 @ 11:18 pm | Reply

  14. Hello Brain Duck, yes, I meant it would have been nice to meet you in person. Maybe next time? Sorry for the blog mis-attribution, corrected it now, I mis-read the list of attendees and their blogs. Understanding uncertainty is on the line beneath you, speaking of which its author, Hauke Riesch looks like an interesting person to meet too.

    Comment by Duncan — September 10, 2008 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  15. Like I said the other day, Duncan, let me know when a “North West Science Bloggers Circle” actually starts up. Then we can have a Science Blogging “Local hub” meeting without all needing to trek down to London… plus we can trade anti-Chelsea and anti-Arsenal insults (though Liverpool-Manchester feuding might have to be put on hold).

    Haven’t yet tried asking any of my local Professors if they are ready to blog. Though from having a nose around on Nature Networks I see that there is already at least one blogging Professor somewhere near where you are.

    I wasn’t quite clear at the SciBlog gig whether the point of “senior scientists blogging” was that it should be “not just the young” or that it should be “the important and successful”. I suspect there are a decent number of blogging scientists over 40 – it’s just that they probably aren’t the ones who make Professor.

    The ones who do make Professor are, in my experience, often much too busy multi-tasking and zooming about being important to blog. I think the only approach likely to persuade any of them will be to say:

    “You know how much time you spend on your email? Well, if you take that and put in on a blog instead…”

    Comment by draust — September 11, 2008 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  16. I do very much hesitate to post a comment now, because up till now there are exactly 15 … must be a kind of magic number …

    Nevertheless I wish to express my pleasure to met you in person (at least we’re sitting on the same table 😉 ) – maybe next time we could even speak together!

    Comment by ob — October 7, 2008 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  17. […] construire sa niche et un lectorat qui peut les reconnaître comme une référence, même à l’échelle d’une quinzaine de personnes. Cette web presence passait autrefois par un site personnel, lequel semble détrôné […]

    Pingback by Ce que le blog apporte à la science | traffic-internet.net — November 7, 2008 @ 11:38 am | Reply

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