Sunday, January 17, 2010

ScienceOnline2010 Report #scio10

I am just freshly back from ScienceOnline2010, where I was graciously invited to talk about the Open Dinosaur Project by Bora Zivkovic (who co-organized the "un-conference" with Anton Zuiker). Simply put, this is one of the best conferences I have attended in a long, long time. So what was it that got me so excited about the event?

  • Meeting new people. Coming into the event, I had met precisely three of the 251 other attendees in person before, and wouldn't say I knew any of them particularly well. Some folks I knew from cyberspace (either through blogs, or PLoS-related functions), but there is something entirely different about in-person interactions. Even better were the unexpected and unplanned meetings - bumping into someone completely new who had wonderfully convergent interests, or a stimulating viewpoint, or was just plain interesting. All in all, it was a tremendously friendly bunch.
  • The civility and positivity. When I (a major proponent of open access) can sit down over a beer and have a really enjoyable, wide-ranging chat with an employee of Elsevier, that's pretty cool. This friendly tenor was by-and-large a hallmark of the meeting. For instance, I was enormously impressed by Pete Binfield's presentation on article level metrics [full disclosure: I'm a section editor at PLoS ONE - Pete is the guy at the helm of the journal]. It wasn't a rant against impact factors, or how PLoS ONE's article level metrics are going to put all of the commercial publishers out of business. His presentation was a factual overview of the plus's and minuses, some genuine recognition of the good things other companies are doing, and an open invitation for others to join the article level metric club. Why can't some segments of the blogosphere be more like this?
  • Seeing the cutting edge. For better or worse, paleontology is a conservative discipline in many respects. This is not to say that every other discipline is lightyears ahead (they're not - scientists of all sorts have tremendous cultural and institutional inertia), but simply that the innovations aren't necessarily happening in our field. I was incredibly energized by the discussions of improving public outreach over the internet, open notebook science, open access publishing, and much more. Some of the concepts will fade into oblivion, some will be superseded by unforeseen technology, and some will become the dominant way of doing things within a few short years. It's going to be very fun to look back, 10 years from now, and remember when issue X or technique Y seemed so new and fresh.
  • The openness of the conference. Nearly every session was YouTubed (videos to go up soon), blogged, livestreamed, and tweeted. The more I see how effective this format is, the more I like it. Yes, yes, I know that it's just not possible for "real" science conferences. . . .But why not?
  • The librarians. Yes, really. Prior to this, I knew librarians as the people who put books back on the shelves and sometimes process an interlibrary loan. During this meeting, I learned that if we want any hope of saving our data (not just our published papers), the librarians will be key in making it happen. If you're looking for some readable and interesting blogs, I would recommend checking out Confessions of a Science Librarian, Christina's LIS Rant, and The Book of Trogool. I got to hang out with both of their authors, and they're really cool people.
  • The Shiny Digital Future isn't just for, or being engineered by, white male nerds under the age of 30. Readily identifiable asocial weirdos were pretty darned scarce, and I was impressed by the number of people past the first few years of their career. We were all geeks, but I think many of us (?some of us?) could pass as normal if you ran into us at the supermarket.
In the afterglow of the conference, the wheels in my brain are turning in multiple directions. This is a sign of a great event, and a sure indication that you'll be seeing more blog posts (and projects) inspired by my weekend here.


cromercrox said...

Agree with you re Pete Binfield (full disclosure - I'm an editor of Nature). His talk on article-level metrics was really, really useful.

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, it was fun meeting you too. After going to the conference for a few years now, it becomes an interesting combination of connecting with the community that you've already built up over the years and meeting new people.

And don't forget to read Christina's blog!

Andy said...

Thanks for the link to Christina's blog - I'll get that added!

akthom said...

cheers to the librarians! I'm working in paleo now, but hopefully heading to grad school soon for library and information science, and it's nice to see a proper paleontologist acknowledge the need for good data managers.

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