We still have a way to go folks…
The mainstream media has a lot of negative things to say about blogs and user based content on the web. Most of them can be discounted but there is one that I think does need to be taken seriously. The ability of communities to form and to some extent to close around themselves and to simply reinforce their own predjudices is a serious problem and one that we need to work against. This week I had two salutary lessons that reminded me that while the open research community is growing and gaining greater recognition, we remain a pretty marginal fringe group.
The first was an exchange on Jenny Rohn’s Nature Network blog, Mind the Gap. I am taking Jenny’s comments out of context and you should read the post and the (very long) full set of comments. This was in response to Neil Saunders mentioning the open notebook concept;
Thanks Neil. I look forward to diving into those links! (But open lab notebooks? You’ve got to be kidding. These guys have obviously never been scooped. This would never, in a million zillion years, work in any cutthroat field.) […]
Now you should read the post and the rest of the comments for what became a good extended conversation about benefits and risks. But the message I wanted to take from this was not that people ‘out there’ have the same set of fears that we know many people do, but that the ‘open approach’ in general was not just an alien concept it was an entirely new concept to many people there. Message; that we need to go out to the wider research community and show how open practice is embedded in what we do, that it is simply a good way of doing science. I committed to showing the Open Notebook Science concept every time I give a talk. If more people can do this then I think it will help.
The somewhat more amusing lesson came in the respone to a submission we made to the International Conference on e-Social Science. The submission we made for a ‘short paper’ can be seen at Google Docs and I am still aiming to get it onto Nature Precedings but want to get it properly referenced first. I found the referee’s comments on this quite funny for a variety of reasons. First, there was the clear fact that they were expecting something entirely different to what we submitted, something much closer to what I would consider to be a short paper, not an abstract. The submission was refereed by four people! A classic case of the perceptions of people from different fields clashing. Secondly there was an element of simply not getting the point, probably at least partially because I presented it the wrong way. I present a few quotations (again out of context);
[…]I was rather less convinced about the value of the approach in gathering collaborators or in submitting a proposal; firstly because this account glosses a lot of the work involved in getting collaborators interested and on board or in resolving the various issues that typically arise in proposal writing; and secondly because I wasn’t convinced that the tool is much better than those currently emplyed like email and the telephone [CN-my emphasis]
[…]I am afraid, I do not quite see the potential for e-Social Science (or e-Science). But the paper is well written and the case presented clearly – but not very innovative or appropriate for the call.
After all, all we are doing is undermining the entire existing reporting structure for science, probably not very significant really :)
However there was a positive comment that goes to the heart of why I thought it worth submitting in the first place.
What I am missing here are:
1) the data is available, as said in the text, for social scientists to analyse; a generous offer, but why not liaising with social scientists in the first place for this paper?[…]
So someone thought there was something worth doing. My aim in going was to try and identify social scientists who might find this interesting and want to work with us. I don’t really even have a clue as to what field of social science is relevant (ethnography? anthropology? psychology?) so the aim was to try and find out. We have been invited to have a poster so perhaps I can both publicise the concept, and find the right people to talk to (although we have since then made some other progress in this direction).
I think there are a couple of points to take from both these stories. One is that we are often talking at cross purposes with people because what we are proposing is totally alien to their experience. We need to take care in how we describe things and also to take care to not appear to be attacking people’s ethics (although sometimes challenging them can be productive). And finally that the talking will be worthwhile. Once we can get over the language barrier.