I’m now back in New York (returning to Finland and the Beast tomorrow). It’s a good time to reflect on ScienceOnline09, before I fly back and the jetlag kicks in.
A lot of credit has to be given to Bora, Anton, and the other organizers for arranging the meeting; it was great fun, and ran very well (better than the wifi at Sigma Xi). The programme was interesting – there were two that I wanted to go to in most of the sets of parallel sessions. It was a good crowd of people collected together – Everyone was friendly and happy to talk, and had something interesting to say. Having everyone in the hotel really helped, and the hotel’s drivers were great – friendly and always happy to collect us, and happy to ell us not to rush etc. etc.
I went to the meeting largely because of the social function – I got to meet a bunch of people with whom I had only had virtual contact. I also got to renew acquaintances from London, and generally had a good time.
For me the meeting raised a few issues that are worth exploring more – here or in other blog posts.
First, the nature of Nature Network. I love it here, but as Henry has also alluded to, it can feel a bit cliquey. The only real solution is to make the network larger, to dilute the in-jokes and spread the discussion. We will have to discuss this more, but for the moment, I would simply suggest that anyone can help, simply by commenting. Don’t be afraid!
The relationship between NN(Nature Network) and ScienceBlogs is one we could develop more. I get the impression that we’re sometimes seen as being in opposition. I don’t think this is really the case – as blog communities we serve different audiences, with ScienceBlogs aimed at the general public, whereas NN concentrates on scientists. We should be able to complement each other. How to do this is an open question, but one worth developing. Reciprocal group blogs is one idea I’ve had, but that needs thinking through (and the move to Moveable Type needs to be more than just fable).
Sort-of related to the last point is the incredible value of FriendFeed. The relation is because I didn’t go to the session on blog networks, but I followed it through FriendFeed, thanks to Martin updates. I wonder whether NN could be linked to FriendFeed in some way (e.g. have a FriendFeed room that ca be accessed from NN). One thing that is clear is that there are a lot of similar tools available, that we could make more use of (SlideShare is another one). Building NN so that integration with other tools sounds like a big job, so it would have to be a strategic decision to go in this direction.
The Open Access crowd were there (not just Bora). meeting them reinforced my criticism of their rhetoric. They’re sold on OA and committed to it, but I think that they’re too evangelical, and can’t see that not everybody is so committed. The problems for OA are largely practical – it needs a change in scientific culture, and whilst this is happening, it needs to be encouraged by working with scientists, and understanding their wants and needs. The particular issue I had was over using journals as proxies for quality. Now, I know this isn’t perfect, but we do need something like that (if I have to assess 30 CVs, I don’t have the time to go through and read all the papers, but if i see that one only has papers in small, local, journals, then it says something about the quality of their work). Assigning and calculating credit plays an important part in scientific society (rightly or wrongly!), so advocates of new schemes for publication need to take this into account. This issue is more general – OA needs to be part of the real world, and can’t fall back on special pleading (in fairness, I think PLoS themselves get this, it’s some other advocates who don’t).
I think we need more work to bring more scientists into the online world. This is a perennial problem, of course.
Finally, batteries for laptops that last a full day is something we need. Even my new souped-up Eeeee battery isn’t good enough. So, farewell for now!