Monday, June 07, 2010

IGERT NSF panel on Digital Science

On May 24, 2010 I was part of a panel in Washington for the NSF IGERT annual meeting. As I mentioned previously, it is encouraging to find that funding agencies are paying more attention to the role of new forms of scholarship and dissemination of scientific information.

My co-panelists included Janet Stemwedel, who talked about the role of blogging in an academic career, Moshe Pritzker, who made a case for using video to communicate protocols in life sciences and Chris Impey, who demonstrated applications of clickers and Second Life in the classroom.

We only had 10 minutes each to speak so the presentations were basically highlights of what is possible. Still, it was enough to stimulate a vigorous discussion with the audience. There was a bit of controversy about the examples I used to demonstrate the limitations of peer review in chemistry. People can misinterpret what we are trying to do with ONS - it certainly doesn't include bringing down the peer review system (not that we could anyway). But we have to face the situation that peer review does not validate all the data and statements in a paper. It operates at a much higher level of abstraction. Providing transparency to the raw data should work in a synergistic way with the existing system.

My favorite part of the conference was easily Seth Shulman's talk on the "Telephone Gambit". Ever since reading his book, I have been using the story of how carefully reading Bell's lab notebook has forced us to revise the generally accepted notion of how the telephone was invented. Seth's presentation was truly captivating because he explained not only what was done but also what motives were at work to deceive and obfuscate. This cautionary tale is still very much relevant to science and invention today - and highlights how transparency can mitigate against this type of outcome.

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