Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Science Online 2010 Thoughts

This year's Science Online conference at the Research Triangle Park, NC was a satisfying experience.

I had the pleasure of meeting face to face for the first time people I have gotten to know quite well over the blogosphere: Steve Koch, Hope Leman, Walter Jessen, Pawel Szczęsny and Andy Farke. This is probably the best conference for me to catch up with friends and collaborators - Bill Hooker, Tony Williams, Cameron Neylon, Deepak Singh, Carmen Drahl, Dorothea Salo, Christina Pikas and several others.

My session on Second Life Saturday didn't work out so well. We had major connectivity problems both at the conference side (bandwidth maxing out and even the router getting unplugged at one point!) and on Second Life. We spent quite a bit of time before the session trying to get things under control but SL voice failed for everyone there after working briefly. I also got kicked out repeatedly and had trouble teleporting. I did manage to follow Max Chatnoir to her always impressive Genome island but only saw her type a few lines of chat.

That was very disappointing and I'm not sure I'll attempt another live demo like this again. After so many years in operation the Second Life servers really should be reasonable stable, given the annual fee we pay for our islands. I think a better use of the technology might be a parallel but separate track only on Second Life, where some of the presenter can display their posters for several days and visitors can leave comments or arrange to meet at certain times. This is what Andy Lang and I did for ACS island a while back and it worked fairly well.

The session on Open Notebook Science I co-chaired with Cameron Neylon and Steve Koch on Sunday went a lot better. I provided a context by demonstrating the utility of ONS in resolving the NaH oxidation controversy followed by the example of the aqueous solubility of EGCG, where the lack of access to raw data in the literature and company catalog leads to an necessarily confusing situation. At the end I mentioned the case where simply reading the lab notebook of Alexander Graham Bell exposed a scandal detailed in Seth Shulman's new book "The Telephone Gambit".

Within that framework I provided an overview of the ONSChallenge and the Wikispaces/Google Spreadsheet/Blogger system we use in my lab. Cameron then spoke a bit about the LaBLog system he uses and the broader scope of incorporating automation in the creation of the notebook records. Finally Steve reflected on his experience with OpenWetWare in both a teaching lab and his research group. He displayed some positive comments he received about ONS in a recent grant application. The discussion afterward moved into the challenge of archiving large amounts of data. I mentioned that we are still looking for a library partner for our ONSarchive project.

On Saturday night during dinner there was an "Ignite" style session where speakers are given about 5 mins to go through their slides, which change automatically every 20 seconds. I presented with Tony on Games in Chemistry. It turned out to be an eclectic collection of talks and are worth a watch when they are posted.

I enjoyed Jonathan Eisen's session on Open Access and Peter Binfield's on PLoS ONE article level metrics. I learned that the DOI must be used for the blog citation metric to work properly and that all the statistics can be downloaded as an Excel file. The scientific world operate much more smoothly if the mainstream adopted a fraction of the philosophies espoused in these sessions.

My favorite session was Andy Farke's demo on the Open Dinosaur Project to crowdsource the measurement of bones. It was exciting to see that his data management system using Google Spreadsheets is similar to our ONS Solubility Challenge. It is possible that he could use the code that Andy Lang wrote to activate bots to flag discrepancies and perhaps semi-automatically publish a book with a summary of the results in a similar way that we do. Instead of pictures of molecules his entries would have images of dinosaurs. We'll follow up to see what is feasible.


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