January 18, 2011
I tried to do it the way the academy wants, truly I did. I submitted my abstract, sent in my slides, wrote my paper and turned up at the conference. I won’t defame the local organisers by saying which conference; those who really want to can work out which major international conference on science communication happened late in 2010.
Murphy’s Law: everything that could possibly go wrong did. The abstract was lost, the registration process worked one time out of three; my slides didn’t make it, at one stage I was in the programme to speak in two sessions (both of them the wrong ones), my talk eventually vanished altogether and the paper never made it to the proceedings.
I did get to stay on for a very good holiday (but that’s the subject of another blog) although the scars still sting. I can almost think about it without howling but the pain lingers. Some would say it’s partly my fault. I am very organised; I send everything in at least a week before the deadline, which means there was more time for them to get lost.
So, not even in the conventional sense has the work been made available. Time to practice what I’m researching others doing; turn to the currently unconventional – and open. I’ve put it in my university’s open repository (or at least, started the process that will eventually land it in the repository) and now I’m making it available here. It’ll be fascinating to see if anyone engages with it: one of my mantras is that openness – and the Internet – means that if anyone is interested in something (however obscure) they can get to the information.
Last time I looked, my readership was in single figures; hope you enjoy it, guys! Let me know what you think.
Muddying the waters or clearing the stream
People practise Open Science for all sorts of reasons. They might be philosophical: it is A Good Thing-in-Itself. Or they might be pragmatic: it’s a way to get information out to as wide an audience as possible (and maybe back in again, but that’s another topic). But does making information directly available to anyone clear the stream of communication or does the data surge muddy the waters with a deluge of unfocussed, unclear and unvetted comment?
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Posted by Ann
November 30, 2010
Does it matter that definitions of what the ‘open’ in open science means are many and various? Naturally, I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed (that’s around 25 people) what ‘open’ means to them. Naturally, I’ve had 25 subtly different answers.
Within the community of scientists, a delicate structure of rules has grown up that sustains our trust in ourselves. We trust each other to cite references properly, to attribute thoughtfully, not to jump each others’ claims and knock down small children in the rush to publication.
Thing is, the rules are largely implicit and maybe you have to be a fully-paid member of the academy to get them. But as the furore over the leaking of emails from UEA (which I won’t cheapen by referring to as Climateg*t*) showed, in the light of common day, expectations can be very different.
The Russell Review – one of the tribunals that investigated the issue – found that while there was no reason to doubt the rigour and honesty of the scientists involved, there had been a ‘consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness’.
What exactly is the proper degree is a moot point. Does it matter that – as my 25 replies show – definitions of what the ‘open’ in open science means are many and various? I don’t think it does; the important thing is to be open in the first place – as open as feels comfortable. As the leaked emails saga shows, it’s easy to confuse ‘normal process’ with ‘deliberately secretive’. Openness can help … open things up. Humans have evolved pretty sophisticated ‘oops that’s not quite right’ detectors over the millennia but we need something to work with. We need the whole picture; the photograph, the list of other publications, the funders, the research question, the blog. It all helps build the narrative; even the twitter post about the particularly nice cup of tea they just had.
2 Comments | Uncategorized | Tagged: Open Science | Permalink
Posted by Ann
October 3, 2010
I know, I know – a shamefully long time since I added anything to this blog.
I am inspired by the two days last week I spent cloistered in a lovely hotel in the New Forest, with twenty or so exceptionally intelligent people — roboticists, AI people, ethicists, philosophers, a lawyer, artists, historians and more — at a retreat to consider the ethical issues raised by ubiquitous robotics. Two days of intense listening and thinking.
Robots were supposed to be ubiquitous by now: I’m pretty sure I was promised in the 1960s that when I grew up, I’d travel everywhere by robotic flying car and at home, recline graciously on my sofa while my robot parlourmaid poured my tea as the robot nanny played games with my lovely (entirely human) children. That hasn’t happened – sadly.
While it’s not easy to define what a “robot” is (believe me, we tried!), there are, apparently, eight million robots in the world already. They can be cuddly, like Paro; designed to offer emotional support. Or cute toys, like Pleo. But what are the ethical issues when robots interact with possibly vulnerable older people or children? Robots can be designed to do dirty and difficult tasks, like mining; but dirty and difficult might also mean military. Robots already ‘man’ factories – what implications do robot employees have for the future of the human kind?
You can’t get too far in two days but we ended the retreat delicately poised in agreement on the kind of questions we should be asking ourselves. As I write, the first draught of an ethical code for robot designers is being created. When it’s ready, it’ll be time to open up the conversation to the wider world. Because, of course, it’s not solely about the people who design the robots; it’s about the people who’ll use them, work alongside them, be cared for by them, play with them, love them, get operated on by them, learn with them, grow up with them, have sex with them, be killed by them …
1 Comment | Uncategorized | Tagged: ethics, public en, Public engagement with science, robotics | Permalink
Posted by Ann
November 25, 2009
The full house on the 376 from Bristol to Wells tonight might well have appreciated my bonnes pensées. They didn’t get them. But then, neither did the workshop on universities and public engagement that should have. Don’t you always have your most intelligent thoughts on the way home?
One thing that struck me was the fixation on public engagement as being ‘standing up and talking about your stuff’. In front of … eek! people! That’s scary, of course – takes a lot of courage. The fear of looking them in the whites of their eyes was high on the list of ‘things that put people off getting involved in PE work’ (there were lots of others). But surely there are other ways? Lots of academics have blogs, social network pages, twitter accounts, personal web pages; aren’t they public engagement? Don’t they count as engagement activities?
Fear works in the other direction too. Universities are big scary places — it takes all the courage I can muster to get myself to a public lecture. But I feel comfy on my sofa with my laptop, looking for information on … Engagement with science on the web is very much engagement – and with a potentially enormous public.
This was all so much better in that traffic jam …
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Posted by Ann
August 25, 2009
At the Citizen Science workshop, hosted last week by the Galaxy Zoo project, two of the people taking part were actual, real, citizen scientists. Both had careers outside science but had been drawn back into study through their involvement with the project. They were lovely, enthusiastic people and completely involved in Galaxy Zoo, spending long hours not just classifying the galaxies but helping to run the forum, gather material for papers, initiate new developments in the project and more.
They both said was that they liked being ‘zooites’ because they felt valued as collaborators, not used as ‘computers’ – that they were really ‘sharing in the science’. And also, most interestingly for me, that they felt those things because the stuff they were doing is good science.
If citizens are going to devote time and energy to a project, they have to feel it’s worthwhile. No one likes to feel used or relegated to being a mere resource. Citizen scientists, like any other scientists, want to know that the research is hypothesis-driven and that the results matter. Science is driven by questions and citizen science is no different to any other kind.
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Posted by Ann
July 28, 2009
Don’t get me wrong … it’s wonderful to have the time, space and freedon to read and think but I’m a scientist at heart and I’ve been itching to be ‘doing’ something.
And in the spirit of open science, I should tell … whoever’s reading this … that I am actually doing something. No, it doesn’t matter that I haven’t processed the data yet. Or that I have the teensiest possible amount of data to process as yet. The point is, I am in the process of …!
I’ve plunged in and done my first interview, with a generous scientist who kindly gave up an hour of his time to answer my rambling attempts at questions. A small step but I am ridiculously excited about it.
I’m mid-way through transcribing the interview as we speak. Writing this post is by way of giving my poor ears a rest. There are two reasons to give my ears a rest: one physical – not being of the ‘digitial native’ generation (my first calculator was a slide rule), my ears scream after more than an hour with earphones in. and one mental – can anyone bear to listen to themselves in a recording?
The conversation was interesting and of course, as any good conversation should, threw up more questions than answers. For example – I’d missed an obvious point – I need to find some open science sceptics to talk to. And then there’s publishing … and journalism … and education …
A barrel of herrings to look over in case they turn out to be red.
3 Comments | Uncategorized | Tagged: interview, Open Science, Public engagement with science | Permalink
Posted by Ann
July 13, 2009
I’ve read in a few places now that one of the reasons scientists give for not taking part in public engagement work is because, bluntly, it’s not part of their funding and they don’t get recognised for it.
This could be about to change in the UK. The Minister for Science, Lord Drayson, made a speech last week that committed the government to rewarding scientists who engage with the public. The government, he said, took public engagement very seriously.
However, the Times Higher Education supplement wrote much more clearly about his speech. See the article here.
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Posted by Ann
June 25, 2009
One of the things I do in the evenings and weekends is copy-editing. Lots of different stuff – textbooks and science and philosophy and religion and … I love helping other people make the sort of book they really want to write. (I am, however, famously nit-picking and pedantic. Don’t come to me if you want to use ‘impact’ as a verb.)
The book I’ve been working on recently is a beginner’s guide to journalism, one of the chapters of which is about the future of journalism now that we’re all content-providers (this, being said on a blog, is looking dangerously incestuous).
What intrigued me is that how ‘citizen journalism’ could be replaced by ‘citizen science’ and the sense would have been exactly the same. Citizen journalism is democratising, heralds the beginning of ‘bottom-up’ journalism but are standards under threat? Instead of carefully-crafted news, are we faced with a flood of pseudo-news? Rather than a tightly-argued discussion of a complex event, will readers be left to weave the narrative for themselves from a bunch of hyperlinks? What happens to quality and content when untrained ‘news bunnies’ are let loose? While blogging and micro-blogging open up critical debate, do they also increase the quantity of unverified fact at large in the ether?
The zeitgeist is changing. From advertising to zoology, the old metrics don’t work as well any more. So we have to create new ones but in doing so, we’ll set everything in flux and have to go through a period of some pain.
3 Comments | Uncategorized | Tagged: beginner's guide, citizen journalism, citizen science, copy-editing, Open Science, Public engagement with science | Permalink
Posted by Ann
June 23, 2009
Maybe it’s because I’m a neophyte conference attendee but why are many of the sessions telling us things I think we already know?
It troubles me that scientists are still able to say that one of the reasons they don’t get involved in public engagement activities is because such work isn’t valued by their universities. I’ve read it in academic papers and I’ve heard people say it here at the conference.
The first of today’s sessions was a panel session with three scientists well-known for their communication work on screen, on radio and in print. All of them also professors either of public understanding of science or science and society. All very enthusiastic to promote scientists’, universities’ and even industry’s involvement in PE. But they also told us more or less the same things.
Hmm … I’ve given talks at conferences too. (All outside the UK, as it happens.). Maybe I’ve told people what they already know as well …
Stop press – I take some of that back: just heard a very interesting ten minutes on the nature and qualities of evaluation and what it says about science communication.
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Posted by Ann
June 22, 2009
Posting at the science communication conference, so apologies for the telegraphic style. But, appropriately, am in a session on blogging, Twitter and social networking.
–just discovered the twitter feed for the conference is #scc2009–
This morning, Johnathan Porritt, the keynote speaker, took the traditional triumvirate technique. Trust, Tone, Transparency. Since I finished the last post saying I needed to think about trust – good connexion.
Does trust require certainty? Climate change (Johnathan’s interest) is debated; in an uncertain world, how do we know when to trust? The process of science is dynamic and uncertain – and would we want it any other way – which makes it exciting but not necessarily trustable.
How do we convey the excitement of science-a-it-happens and generate trust?
4 Comments | Uncategorized | Tagged: Open Science, Public engagement with science, science communication conference | Permalink
Posted by Ann