My Science Online London 2010 impressions

I attended the Science Online London 2010 conference (SOLo10) last week. There is a round-up
of post-conference reports
elsewhere on Nature Network.  This word cloud by Simon Cockell gives an idea of the key themes.  My personal highlights are below, though this only a
partial picture based mainly on the sessions I chose to attend.

Credit: SJ Cockell
Open Access.  Sir Martin Rees, president of the Royal
Society gave the introductory keynote talk. He stated that Learned Societies are
moving towards Open Access and he just regretted that it couldn’t be done
immediately. He noted that big deals with commercial publishers had delivered
better access, but it was still very incomplete access. He used the term
“rip-off” in association with commercial publishers, and stated “We don’t want
more new journals!”, which was music to my ears.  He also noted that scholarly
monograph publishing (low print runs; high prices) was a broken model that
didn’t achieve its purpose of information dissemination. This theme was echoed
in my ebooks session the following day (write-up and link to follow).
Scientific Journalism / Science Blogging. An interesting
panel discussion suggested that science writing was not in crisis, though some
individual journalists may be. Ed Yong suggested that the web is an ideal
playground for science writers, but they have to take advantage of it, not just
write the same way they always have for print. Alice Bell suggested journalism
should move upstream, and write about how scientists work rather than just about
the results. This may not square with the need to satisfy newsdesks by making
science stories into news, but perhaps (my thought) the equation of science and news is not
a helpful one for science in any case. Another discussion panel on science
blogging didn’t really catch fire.  I had hoped for a high level view of the
state and future directions of science blogging a la Zivkovic. In another session, Evan Harris
gave some tips about using online tools to organise campaigns.  These seem to be proving useful already. Formats and media. I felt that the spirit of Marshall McLuhan was
hovering around the discussion over the two days. With 250 attendees
who habitually inhabit an online space there were a large number of twitterers
present at the conference, and others following it from a distance, so Twitter was buzzing. More than 6000
tweets with the hashtag #solo10 were issued. In some conference sessions a twitterwall was
displayed, but it was found by some to be a distraction, (sometimes a welcome
distraction it has to be said).  Martyn Robbins commented en passant
that PDF was an insult to science – “it’s like inventing the phone and using it
to transmit Morse Code”, and this metaphor was much-repeated and extended. Overly
text-heavy Powerpoint presentations also came in for much criticism. In
the spirit of reductio ad absurdum, I heard of one Twitter message that was an 8-page PDF containing a single Tweet!  The reply was contained in a
Powerpoint file. They’re a funny lot, these online types.
Research Data.  BiomedCentral described their work in
promoting good practice in publishing data. They publish journals about
datamining, e.g. BioDataMining and
recently published a statement
on open data
, supporting the Panton Principles. The British Library like to
think of themselves as the steward for dataset preservation (hmm…), and are
involved in projects like DataCite, to
make datasets citeable, and Dryad, to
tie data with published articles more effectively.  They are also starting to
support dataset
resource discovery
 through the British Library catalogue. Simon Hodson from
JISC gave a canter through some of the enormous number of projects that JISC’s
Managing Research
programme is funding.
Recommendation tools. CiteuLike and Mendeley showed some of
the work they are doing to develop better algorithms for recommending things
(and people) you might be interested in.  Personal collections and
recommendations are usually a good source of ‘something interesting’, said Kevin
Emamy, giving the example of Neil Gaiman’s
. Jason Hoyt warned that even though search engines and
recommendation tools give the appearance of being machines, they are algorithms
obeying rules created by people and are not therefore value-neutral. The recent
announcement of Google
brings this point home. Jason suggested that we should more often
question the neutrality and editorial intent of Google, PubMed etc.  Librarians
will always tell you not to trust a single source, but to also use Scopus, Web
of Science or other tools, but no-one listens to us!
ORCID. Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier is an
initiative that started nearly a year ago and has just formally become a legal
. Geoff Bilder of CrossRef explained the principles governing the
design of ORCID:

  • It should be designed to support the creation of a clear and unambiguous
    record of scholarly communication.
  • It should transcend discipline, geographic/national and institutional,
  • It should be designed to identify “contributors”, not just “authors”.
  • It should support reliable attribution in both formally and informally
    published literature.
  • It should be “open” whilst complying with the privacy requirements of the
    individual as well as of various legal jurisdictions
  • It should be persistent. This is both a “technological” imperative and a
    “social” imperative.
  • It should be controlled by the contributor

Their priority is to provide identifiers for active authors.  They will seek
later to establish relationships between ORCID IDs and other identifiers. (It
struck me that “ORCID ID” is a bit like “ISBN number” and “PIN number” – i.e.
Datamining. One interesting unconference session reviewed
some datamining services and proposed a new approach to literature reviews. SWAN is a program that
aims to “organize and annotate scientific knowledge about Alzheimer disease”. It
shows statements in research papers, whether evidence tyo support those
statements is presented, and how the statemenets are related to other statements
(are they consistent or inconsistent). Cohere is another project that does
something a bit similar.
Dario Taraborelli is working with Mendeley to try and crowdsource literature
annotation – making use of the 500,000 Mendeley users. It is a great idea, but I
felt there were some missing steps in the feasibility.
Visualisation / I’m a scientist. I couldn’t go to every
session so I missed two that subsequently got a lot of positive feedback. David
McCandless gave a talk on the beauty of data visualisation, as applied to
science (see his TED
 for an idea of what he does).  The I’m a scientist team gave a run down of
how their project ran this summer.  By all accounts it was very successful,
getting school students and scientists talking online.
A great event.  Everyone seemed very happy overall
(despite some niggles here and there) and I am sure that planning SOLO 2011 must
already be under way.  Hopefully it will be even beter than 2010.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we slip from print through to electronic information resources.
This entry was posted in Bibliographic management, Blogology, Journal publishing, Research data, Social networking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My Science Online London 2010 impressions

  1. Maxine Clarke says:

     Great round-up, Frank, from one who was not there. I certainly got a flavour of the main themes, or at least those that interest you which is good enough for me!
    Interesting how small the word "blog" is on that Wordle, wonder what that means (if anything)?
    There are some very mutlifaceted issues described in your post, but it is fascinating to get this view of "what scientists think is important and can be done online" if that is a fair one-phrase summary.

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

    (sometimes a welcome distraction it has to be said).
    Hah! I have no idea what you mean. cough

  3. Frank Norman says:

    Maxine – Between "blogging", "bloggers", "blogs" and "blog" I think there is a reasonable representation.  Remember that this was generatedf from Tweets, so i’s not necessarily a 100% accurate representation of the conference content, but what people were talking/commenting about.
    You are right though – it was much broader than just about blogging and the focus really is science online not just blogs.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Frank, thanks for the nice conference roundup. I also feel sorry for the sessions I couldn’t attend, including Data Visualisation and I’m a Scientist. And I would have like to attend your eBooks unconference session. eBooks seem to be a hot topic in 2010, and I’m particularly interested in collaborative writing (Wiki, etc.) for textbooks for students.

  5. Frank Norman says:

     Martin – I agree ebooks are a hot topic this year, though I think they have not yet impinged overmuch on science and researchers. My next job is to post a round-up of my conference session here, hopefully soon.