Sunday, January 22, 2012

ScienceOnline2012 - Parting Thoughts

My thoughts on Days 2 and 3 of ScienceOnline2012 are found elsewhere - here I sum up some other impressions.

Twitter at ScienceOnline
This is the first time I've actively tweeted through an entire meeting, and found it to be a worthwhile addition. It was cool to see what other folks in my sessions were thinking (at times it was like passing notes in class), and also nice to be able to follow the sessions in other rooms. Over 300 active users participated (on and off-site), and over 17,000 tweets discussed the meeting (see this cool summary map)! It's this broad participation that took Twitter from just being a small piece of the meeting to an essential component - an important observation for groups like Society of Vertebrate Paleontology that might want to acknowledge (or even encourage) Twitter.

Some thoughts on the state of blogging
One perception I have after ScienceOnline 2012 is that blogging - as an activity and as a medium of communication - seems to have reached a relatively mature state. Sure, there are incremental advances and changes, but by and large I don't really get the sense that there is much substantively new going on (other than new people joining the blogging fold on occasion). This is somewhat reflected by the blogging-relevant sessions at ScienceOnline2012 - they are much the same kind of stuff you might have seen at ScienceOnline 2010, or 2009, or 2011. Topics like getting students involved in blogging, increasing acceptance of blogging in academia, use of images on blogs, etc., are important but really not much advanced beyond where we were a few years ago. [brief note - this should not be interpreted as me saying that I think things are just OK as they are - in fact, it is a rather sad thing that some of these issues are still issues!]

I don't mean this as a criticism, but just a state of how things are. In fact, stability is partly a good thing in that someone new to the world of blogging can jump in with clear role models, expectations, and pathways to success (whatever success may be). Many of the broad principles have been laid out, and now we're working on refining the details. Some big issues do remain (we can always increase the acceptance of quality blogging for academic career advancement, for instance), but many of these will probably just require the imperceptible cultural shifts that happen over time.

Some thoughts on the state of online science
Perhaps it just reflects my own intellectual trajectory, but it seems like we're approaching some measure of stability for many of the old issues in science  communication. Open access - important, but not really novel anymore. Blogging - same thing. Social media - ditto. As all of these trends started, I took a wait-and-see approach before engaging myself. As such, I have missed out on getting in at the very, very beginning of some trends, but have also avoided wasting time with trends that haven't much gone anywhere or have fizzled out (e.g., SecondLife and GoogleWave, to name just two). Based on my attendance at ScienceOnline 2012, the areas to watch include:
  • Crowdfunding: Small donations can add up to decent funding for a focused project, and present unique outreach opportunities. In a field of shoestring budgets like paleontology, I see crowdfunding as a potentially important new trend.
  • Article-level metrics and data set archival and citation: I've tied these two topics together because they reflect a major advance beyond the old journal-level metrics like Impact Factor. Neither topic is completely new, but I saw plenty of new tools at ScienceOnline that may move the discussions and usage of these metrics forward. Furthermore, there is still a long way to go for community buy-in.
There may indeed be some major issues to watch in science art or writing that I have missed because I'm not really plugged in to those communities, so please comment if there is something I missed!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

ScienceOnline2012 - Day 3

In Day 3 of ScienceOnline 2012 (my second day), we had a fun mix of split sessions and common gatherings. Areas of interest for me included:
  • Students as Messengers of Science: This discussion focused on how to engage high school and college students in science blogging. There are no easy solutions, but there were some tips to get them started. In particular, planning is key. What is the goal? Who are the potential readers? 
  • Why the Resistance to Science Blogging? This session was pretty much as advertised. Unfortunately, there was little new here - yes, there are downsides to putting yourself out there on a blog, but for the most part it seems like it will just take slow attrition of the skeptics to normalize blogging for non-blogging scientists. Same issues as in 2011, 2010, 2009. . .but little in the way of new solutions. One good piece of advice, though: should we put blogging activity on our CV, and if so how? In many cases, there are impactful ways to describe this activity - online outreach editor, web editor, etc. These or similar terms can be honest, accurate descriptors that are more positive for those who might be instinctively averse to the word "blog."
  • Raising Money for Your Science and Journalism with Crowd Funding: This session filled in many of the details related to yesterday's demo - and was quite interesting. One clear worry is that crowd funding in science could be hijacked by "stodgy" forces that try to impose NSF-style limitations on the crowdfunding community (e.g., layers of vetting by experts, etc. - in fact, I think the odds are quite good that someone will un-ironically submit an NSF proposal in the near future to put together a service to validate and serve as a clearinghouse for crowdfunding science). This could have the chilling effect of squeezing out small players in favor of big institutions that are already comparatively well-funded. Vigilance is required - and the situation will doubtlessly change rapidly over the next few years. Either way, it has cool potential.
  • CyberScreen Science Film Festival: Again, what the label says. I'm hoping to find a link to a list of the films - there were some really excellent ones.
  • Closing Plenary Panel on Scientist/Journalist Relations: This isn't a new topic (see here for one recent post), and is getting a little tiresome for many. Lots of discussion, little movement from either side. My thought is that the real problem is not with the journalists or scientists at ScienceOnline, but the reporters who aren't science specialists, or who just copy press releases, or who throw stuff together without contacting relevant scientists.
Next. . .parting thoughts.

Friday, January 20, 2012

ScienceOnline2012 - Day 2

ScienceOnline is really one of those unique experiences - explicitly set up as an "UnConference," it encourages freewheeling input from all attendees, bursting the bounds of conventional presentations. In fact there really aren't presentations in the conventional sense. The presenter is only a facilitator; everyone else is encouraged to join in the conversation. As such, it is both a disconcerting and intensely rewarding experience.

In my second trip to one of these unconferences (see here for my report on the last trip), ScienceOnline 2012 has proven to be worth every instant of invested time. It's been enjoyable to meet the faces behind the websites, interact with science media types (both bloggers and "conventional" reporters), and learn about the current trends in doing science in the internet age.

Work scheduling meant I had to miss the first day of the conference (disappointing, as there were some good sessions), but I was happy to drop in Day 2. Some highlights of the sessions included:
  • Saying howdy to the infamous Bora Zivkovic - a tireless promoter for science on the internet, and arguably one of the most influential individuals out there in the new science communication landscape (Bora is the reason why I'm involved with PLoS ONE!).
  • Seeing a presentation from the talented high school students behind Extreme Biology Blog. It's tough to balance the demands of being a high school student and being a blogger - but blogging can clearly be a good component of the curriculum.
  • Learning about - a newly revamped way to share all sorts of data (not just figures!). This looks to have some great potential, especially once the long-term archiving is worked out (which seems to be on the near horizon)
  • Learning about ROMEO, a clearinghouse for summaries of publisher policies - a great place to find out whether you can post a copy of your paper on your own site, for instance.
  • ORCID is an upcoming service to assign unique identifiers to researchers. Launching later this year.
  • Annotum is a WordPress plug-in to allow writing, peer-review, editing, and publication of scientific papers.
  • SciFund is a way to crowdfund research projects. But, it's not just about collecting dollars - the most successful fundraisers made a solid outreach connection with the public.
  • I really enjoyed visiting with some of the other paleontologists here. It is nice to see other paleo folks on the ScienceOnline bandwagon, but also a little distressing how out of touch many of our colleagues are with the world of online outreach!
One interesting observation is the slight change in feel of the conference from 2010. Back then, was the reigning champion of science communication - and to be honest, parts of the 2010 banquet felt like a string of in-jokes between a handful of  bloggers. As the landscape has shifted, it feels as if things are a little more inclusive. All in all, a good thing! ScienceOnline2012 is a little bigger, but it has retained all of the charm and good qualities that made ScienceOnline2010 a useful, fun experience. Kudos to the organizers and presenters!