Web 2.0 and Open Science

Drexel University Libraries’ annual Scholarly Communication Symposium focused on web 2.0 in general and open science in particular. This is fast becoming my favorite conference: I can walk there; it’s free; it’s well organized; everyone there is smart, friendly and from diverse backgrounds; you get to eat a great lunch and it’s all over by 1:30!

Keynoter Jean-Claude Bradley (Chemistry) described UsefulChem and his mash-up of technologies for disseminating his work. I was struck by his pragmatic approach–some articles are better suited for peer-reviewed journals, some items better suited for blog posts or wikis, some items for mailing lists. He described what he called “open science” which is making your lab notebooks and all data available to anyone who would like to look at it. He claimed the old way to evaluate information was to see if it was peer-reviewed, the new way is to make all the data available and let everyone look at it to see if they can find any problems.

A questioner in the Q and A asked about patents and giving up the power to exclude. Bradley responded, “if you are trying to get a patent, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. But if you have a project in which you don’t care about a patent, it’s a great way to find collaborators.” The costs of 2.0 may include giving up the power to exclude, but in return you often get feedback on your work where previously you wouldn’t get any and you get found more.

Bradley struck me as an example of the kind of scholar who has figured out how to mix the new tools with the old and use them both to advance his own work and to advance his field. Whether he has any life outside his work and posting to his blogs and wikis is harder to say.

He mentioned a few tools I hadn’t heard of. He described Friendfinder as some kind of friend feed app that informs you what your friends are doing, who finds you interesting, who finds you boring. (At this point an old Blondie song jumped to mind–once had friends it was a gas/ soon turned out/ to be a pain in the ass…) The point was this is how he keeps up with new information, through his social network. ChemSpider is a free hosting service of 20 million molecules, JSpecView allows people to look at fine details of your spectra, which is apparently very important in chemistry; and something in Google called InChiKey, again having to do with molecules. The overall idea was how the web was able to provide more detail that was formerly not available with just the peer reviewed journal article.

When asked if 2.0 is truly transformative, he said, “collaboration is not necessarily new or different, but now you can do it faster and with people all over the world. In a large enterprise like science this can make a big difference.” Well put.

Two other points. Bradley predicted open science would lead to the day when computers could do the number of experiments that took his students a year to do in one weekend; and when asked if he worried about the archiving of his work he said he tried to take care of this through 1. redundancy, and b. that in 5-10 years all his work will be obsolete anyway. (!)

The panelists and my roundtable were full of engaged people with lots to contribute. Banu Onaral, in particular, raised some provocative issues, including the idea that Asia will lead the way in the new certification of academic credentials, and she asked the question, what happens when another country (e.g. China?) that maybe doesn’t share our values buys up these formerly free hosting services (e.g. Google etc?) and they decide to restrict them and we trusted them with our collective genius?

Thanks to Drexel University Libraries for another stimulating scholarly communication symposium.

3 thoughts on “Web 2.0 and Open Science

  1. Marc,
    Thanks for attending the meeting and taking the time to write a comprehensive summary!
    (And yes I do have somewhat of a life outside of the web – I can’t pet my cats online :)

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