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Sci – Bar – Foo etc. Part I – SciBarCamp Palo Alto

15 July 2009 No Comment

Last week I was lucky enough to attend both SciBarCamp Palo Alto and SciFoo; both for the second time. In the next few posts I will give a brief survey of the highlights of both, kicking off with SciBarCamp. I will follow up with more detail on some of the main things to come out of these meetings over the next week or so.

SciBarCamp followed on from last year’s BioBarCamp and was organized by Jamie McQuay, John Cumbers, Chris Patil, and Shirley Wu. It was held at the Institute for the Future at Palo Alto which is a great space for a small multisession meeting for about 70 people.

A number of people from last year’s camp came but there was a good infusion of new people as well with a strong element of astronomy and astonautics as well as a significant number of people with one sort of media experience or another who were interested in science providing a different kind of perspective.

After introductions and a first past at the session planning the meeting was kicked off by a keynote from Sean Mooney on web tools for research. The following morning kicked off for me with a session lead by Chris Patil on Open Source text books with an interesting discussion on how to motivate people to develop content. I particularly liked the notion of several weeks in a pleasant place drinking cocktails hammering out the details of the content. Joanna Scott and Andy Lang gave a session on the use of Second Life for visualization and scientific meetings. You can see Andy’s slides at slideshare.

Tantek Celik gave a session on how to make data available from a technical perspective with a focus on microformats as a means of marking up elements. His list of five key points for publishing data on the web make a good checklist. Unsurprisingly, being a key player at microformats.org he played up microformats. There was a pretty good discussion, that continued through some other sessions, on the relative value of microformats versus XML or rdf. Tantik was dismissive which I would agree with for much of the consumer web, but I would argue that the place where semantic web tools are starting to make a difference is the sciences and the microformats, at least in their controlled vocabulary form, are unlikely to deliver. In any case a discussion worth having, and continuing.

An excellent Indian lunch (although I would take issue with John’s assertion that it was the best outside of Karachi, we don’t do too badly here in the UK), was followed by a session from Alicia Grubb on Scooping, Patents, and Open Science. I tried to keep my mouth shut and listen but pretty much failed. Alicia is also running a very interesting project looking at researcher’s attitudes towards reproducibility and openness. Do go and fill out her survey. After this (or actually maybe it was before – it’s becoming a blur) Pete Binfield ran a session on how (or whether) academic publishers might survive the next five years. This turned into a discussion more about curation and archival than anything else although there was a lengthy discussion of business models as well.

Finally myself, Jason Hoyt, and Duncan Hull did a tag team effort entitled “Bending the Internet to Scientists (not the other way around)“. I re-used the first part of the slides from my NESTA Crucible talk to raise the question of how we maximise the efficiency of the public investment in research. Jason talked about why scientists don’t use the web, using Mendeley as an example of trying to fit the web to scientists’ needs rather than the other way around, and Duncan closed up with discussion of online researcher identities. Again this kicked off an interesting discussion.

Video of several sessions is available thanks to Naomi Most. The friendfeed room is naturally chock full of goodness and there is always a Twitter search for #sbcPA. I missed several sessions which sounded really interesting, which is the sign of a great BarCamp. It was great to catch up with old friends, finally meet several people who I know well from online, as well as meet a whole new bunch of cool people. As Jamie McQuay said in response to Kirsten Sanford, it’s the attendees that make these conferences work. Congrats to the organizers for another great meeting. Here’s looking forward to next year.

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