Many things have happened in the last few weeks that, to me, all seem to circle around this word. Two events stood out because, in a way, they seemed to be exact opposites.

There is Wikileaks of course, and the controversy surrounding it.
And there’s Nature Network and the background discussions on facebook I’ve been involved in (Richard mentioned this before).

Wikileaks is ruthlessly open in its aim to “publish material of ethical, political and historical significance […], thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices” [sic].

At the same time, NN – in a rather surprising move – chose to lock down the blogs of the first group of people who, after demanding more information on the plans NPG has with its blogging platform and who were openly (and persistently) critical of the network and its policies and who, finally, decided to open an independent network here on OT. I don’t want to repeat what others have said about this already (and more eloquently), but it did strike me as a little strange when, a few days later, Nature announced the opening of its workbench for “the community to develop customized applications (“widgets”) to search, discover and share scientific information” and assured everyone in what high regard they hold bloggers. It seems a little strange not to share information with those concerned while, at the same time, asking people to provide content and input.

Oh well – I guess every big organization or company chooses how open or not it is going to be. Being very open can have all kinds of consequences, sometimes also of the unwanted variety… Anyway.

Deciding on the right degree of openness can be tricky. In our personal lives, it intuitively makes sense that some information is just not to be shared, and that we should and cannot always be ruthlessly open. I will leave examples up to everyone’s imagination and will only say that there are things I don’t tell my husband, and I am sure there are things he doesn’t tell me (I am still convinced that he *must* agree my butt looks too big in those jeans).

I work for the European XFEL, an international research facility under construction in Hamburg, Germany – as you might imagine this involves a lot of committee meetings, careful negotiations with present and future partners, and laborious development of policies that everyone can agree to… all of which has to happen in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust. This is of course not unusual: for example, the German public corporate governance codex (which is applied for companies the German federal government holds shares in) mandates in paragraph 3.5 that discussions during meetings of the “supervisory body” of such companies must be held confidential to ensure that deliberations are open. Is that contradictory? No, it’s not, it makes a lot of sense: in certain situations, truly open discussions – which are necessary to come to common conclusions and decide on the next steps – can only happen in a “protected” atmosphere.

Now, concerning this shiny new blog (thanks Richard!) – if NN locks my best friends out of their blogs, I’m not hanging around there either. I’m just slower on the uptake. I decided to stick with the old title, at least until I can think of something better. “Science behind the Scenes” is not about the spilling of beans of any kind, as the title might imply – it was and is about people in science and those behind it… (and some other stuff). This new blog is my early Christmas present, which I have just opened.

So, welcome to my new home! And please bear with me while I work on getting comfy here, which includes getting around to adding all those shiny plugins and whatnots.

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
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51 Responses to Openness

  1. Erika Cule says:

    Welcome, Steffi! πŸ™‚

    • steffi suhr says:

      Thanks Erika! Glad to be here πŸ™‚

      (Just a heads up: if responses to comments on this post slow down this afternoon, it’s because my long underwear didn’t help and I froze to a popsicle “welcoming VIPs” during this event.)

      • Erika Cule says:

        According to the mining tradition, the tunnel and tunnel boring machine will be christened in a festive ceremony before construction begins.


  2. cromercrox says:

    Welcome to your new home, Steffi!

    • steffi suhr says:

      Thanks Henry! I just got a “caution, you are about to approve a comment” notice for your comment, but didn’t for Erika’s before. Is that a special setting for you? πŸ˜‰

  3. Herzlich Wllkommen ins neues Affenhaus, Steffi!

    Sei aber vorsichtig, diese Wort “Codex” zu benutzen…! Vielleicht kriegst du dabei einigen besonderen Folgenden….

  4. Stephen says:

    Welcome Steffi. I see you haven’t lost your edge. πŸ˜‰

  5. Graham Steel says:

    Welcome Steffi,

    If we all chipped in a few squid, I think we should buy Henry a nice new leash from Christmas.

  6. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I’m delighted you decided to join us, Steffi! Nature Network has shot itself in the foot once again. And I love that header image by the way – gorgeous!

    WikiLeaks is a very interesting phenomenon. I saw my brother-in-law last week and it was more or less the first thing I talked to him about – he’s not an actual diplomat, but he’s the closest to it of anyone I know. He has a law degree and has spent most of his career working with the UN (he drafted part of the Kosovo constitution, worked on the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spent two years in Vietnam helping to reform the court systems). On a personal level he seems (like me) fairly gleeful about the amusing gossip about world leaders that’s coming out of WikiLeaks – but as a professional he’s not happy about some of the kinds of things they’re sharing, and worries about the leaks undoing some of the progress made so painstakingly by him and others like him.

    So in certain situations, truly open discussions – which are necessary to come to common conclusions and decide on the next steps – can only happen in a β€œprotected” atmosphere. makes perfect sense to me, too!

    • steffi suhr says:

      Thanks Cath, and sorry for not replying directly to your comment before! Really – it’s not you, it’s me… when I saw it yesterday in between the speeches and GlΓΌhwein, I thought “long” and then “must think before replying”, followed by “must remember to do that later”. Because I didn’t want to leave just a boring, generic reply for you. Which I still have to do now because I have so much to finish before my vacation!!! starts tomorrow.

  7. rpg says:

    Actually I approved Erika’s comment because it appeared while I was still wiring in the lights, as it were.

  8. cromercrox says:

    I’m all for Wikileaks. Unreservedly.

  9. Linda says:

    Hi Steffi, Thanks for extra low-down and links about the troubles at NN. Still hard to make sense of it, but I guess commercial journals aren’t as cuddly as they seem to be (vaguely reminded of this blog post: hope you won’t regard those of us who still like to call NN home harshly.

  10. rpg says:

    I see one still can’t comment at NN on an iPhone.

  11. Steffi, welcome to your new blog. Isn’t WordPress lovely?

    • steffi suhr says:

      It is indeed, Martin. Hey, since you’re here – various people are wondering whether you have the magic fix for translating posts from textiles to HTML?…

      • Austin says:

        I have used this a little, which handles converting hyperlinks reasonably well, but doesn’t seem to “get” the rest of the Textile formatting.

        I’ve used the converter on posts, bits of posts and comments, but obviously what one would REALLY like to be able to do is use the converter on the entire “text” archive file that NN give you, so that when it was then imported into WP all the formatting was there… a bit like having an in-built converter.

  12. Jenny says:

    Welcome, Steffi. I find that chipped squids are very nice on crackers with a bit of chive and cream cheese.

    • steffi suhr says:

      Thanks Jenny – that’s fine, as long as you bring your own chipped squid along. I’ll have just the cream cheese and chives on my crackers, thank you πŸ™‚

  13. Ken says:

    Wow…the page recognized me without even having to log in! Congrats on the move.

  14. Jenny says:

    BTW, forgot to congratulate you on posting your own farewell NN post like a grown-up blogger. Nice touch. I assume this will be the norm from now on – why would any departing blogger alert them in advance?

    I was going to comment there before they locked you down, but then realized that actually, I don’t want to participate in NN any more. Some things you just can’t forgive, and being treated like a naughty five-year-old in public is one of them.

    • steffi suhr says:

      I actually hadn’t read the entire thread on Mike’s blog before deciding to do this – so I had missed your prediction on this being done in future. It seemed clear to me that I’d be locked down right away (associating with you lot…!), but I suspect that this will have blown over soon (many at NN may not even have noticed) and future departures will be more “normal” again.

  15. Heather Etchevers says:

    Hey, Steffi!

    I think I’m getting too empathetic with some of the other ex-NN bloggers (who were often, mostly, ex- from elsewhere before that). So not much new to say. Glad to see you here, I adore your banner, and I totally, totally agree that

    it’s all about trust.

    Which might be an interesting time to open up a discussion about open lab notebooks. I remember when Jenny took a lot of written exception to my idealistic hopes of keeping one in molecular biology, where I even discussed mechanisms for how to do so back at Science Blogging in 2008. Turns out, since then, even I don’t keep it up much, and I could never convince anyone in my group to do so. Now, one could argue that part of that is that I’m not as much at the bench as I would like, and that the software I chose is not perfectly designed to make keeping it as easy as could be.

    Still, it’s mostly about getting scooped and so forth. I’ve even been taken to task for openly (ie. publicly) posting my notes on seminars, conferences and lab meetings – even when kind of coded. And my husband is persistently nervous about my Facebook participation.

    I guess there is not a right answer to any of this, only a continuum on which one can place oneself, if one is aware of the pros and cons of landmark positions.

  16. steffi suhr says:

    Hi Heather! I agree that, on the personal level, it’s a continuum along which everyone makes their own decisions on what they want to disclose. I do worry about public disclosure by third parties though. Who gets to decide what is disclosed when and where? But of course I absolutely agree that bad things must be outed. In other words, if wikileaks stuck to only publishing “material of ethical, political and historical significance”, I probably wouldn’t say anything at all… (whatever “significance” means… sigh.)

    P.S. Thanks for the compliment on the banner (you too, Cath!): it’s an iceberg (but you probably saw that); the photo was taken by my husband on this cruise.

    • Austin says:

      And there was I thinking it was a super-close-up of some ice cubes gently dissolving in a large gin.

      Which tells you I’ve never seen an iceberg, I guess.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        You’ve clearly never seen a large gin, either (hint: they don’t usually come with sea birds flying around above the ice cubes πŸ™‚ )

        • Austin says:

          Is that a bird? Ah.

          I didn’t see it at all on a first look, actually. You have to remember that my eyes are nearly half a century old…

  17. cromercrox says:

    Wow, Steffi, that’s a real picture? I thought it was fantasy artwork. What an amazing planet this is.

    • steffi suhr says:

      Oh yes indeed, and I am planning on posting a lot more like that one. Maybe the one in which you can see the seal approaching the berg next.. tomorrow, if I have time between X-mas gift-shopping…

  18. ricardipus says:

    Hey, there’s Steffi!

    Obviously, I am a bit slow on the uptake too.

    Good to see you over here at OT and I think you may have garnered the most comments for an initiial post of anyone here (I confess I am too lazy to go and count though).

  19. Frank says:

    That limitation on NN has really restricted my commenting there. I am usually reading it on Android or iPad, in little corners of free time. By the time I get to a desktop at work I have forgotten my comment.

  20. Frank says:

    Oops. Something went wrong with the nesting – that comment was supposed to be up the page a bit.

    Anyway, welcome from me too Steffi and lashings of gluon-wein to celebrate! I like your header and the background image too. I didn’t notice we could do that.

  21. steffi suhr says:

    Hey both, and welcome! I am sure I don’t deserve the number of comments. I’ll try to make up for it by posting those photos I mentioned..!

  22. Sam Bowser says:

    Hi Steffi! I’ll need to update my blogspot link to you. What was your basis for selecting OT for blogging? I’m slowly coming back to life now that the field season is over …

    • steffi suhr says:

      Hi Sam, great to see you here, and I hope the field season was a full success! My reasons for selecting OT: it’s a nice platform, but – for me – much more importantly, the company is most excellent, with a group of people who like to argue but don’t take themselves too seriously (well… most of the time).

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