Monday, April 12, 2010

How blogs can drive scientific progress

Adam Bly opens by thanking the Tweeters for keeping him in touch with the conference. Adam, you see, is in New York. We're in Edinburgh. Virtual speakers: a first for UKSG.

Distributing, managing, sharing, visualising data
Adam will speak around the issue of how we can ensure that we are constantly updating and refining our first principles and our technologies in a landscape that is constantly evolving. He illustrates changes in science by showing a picture of the large hadron collider. "It's a reminder of how science has become increasingly global, with dozens of countries (even those in current geopolitical conflict) coming together to collaborate." These huge, global, multidisciplinary collaborations require new approaches to distributing and managing data. Scientists must not only produce, but find new approaches to sharing and visualising, data.

"Open science is what will drive the most profound and robust advancements in the future, and will ensure that science has the greatest potential to affect society for the better."

Adam says we have a social responsibility to make research as available as possible to the world - to scientists, and researchers, across borders - and ensure that the technology that does this doesn't impede progress. (It's nice to hear someone make this argument about the core data, not the finished article - I think the former is much more valuable to progressing research, and doesn't devalue what publishers add.) The challenge is not whether open science is good or bad, but how it becomes scaleable, sustainable and simple to adopt. We need purpose-built software and environments for researchers, so that this extraordinarily valuable community is not spending its time on IT but is instead discovering the next great cure.

Starting over on scientific communications
We need to bed four first principles into this reboot of the system:
  • Digital core - we've been moving online for years, and will continue to do so. But if the core isn't fundamentally digital, then we just end up hacking solutions around the edge, and can't create the kind of intelligence that a truly digital core for research promises.
  • Free flow of information - economic growth is tied to the abundance of scientific information, and we're on track to increasingly free flow.
  • Standards and interoperability - to ensure that as projects progress they can be tied together, so individual scientists are not navigating through disconnected and redundant applications, but bringing disparate pieces together.
  • Knowledge from information - using tools like data visualisation to see realtime changes and extract knowledge.
Adam uses the example of the ResearchBlogging platform, which enables scientists to communicate with each other and the public, using the simple, open blog as a medium. Scientists can easily tag posts so that they can be syndicated to appropriate outlets. It helps ensure that they are contributing to the scholarly record, and that their work and dialogue are being seen more widely than hitherto (journal clubs etc). He shows an example of a ResearchBlogging feed in the PLoS One site - conversations relating to published papers being immediately syndicated back to the source.

Value of blogs in tracking, funding and planning science research
Some researchers in the Netherlands have done the first bibliometric / webometric study of blogging in science, and have used ResearchBlogging as the subject. They found that blogs are more immediate than traditional academic discourse, and are more contextually relevant than academic literature. They focus on the implications of science. This kind of study enables us to understand where discussions around the web are focussed, to better understand the movements of science and direct policy-making and funding.

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