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Science 2.0 and Collaborative Communication

August 6, 2009

Last week, I attended Science 2.0 — an afternoon of presentations associated with the Software Carpentry course. The premise of the event is that “doing science” is — and should be — changed by the communication modes available. With the availability of free, instantaneous communication across communities, why shouldn’t science become more open and collaborative?

Despite some evidence of success — the popularity of blogs run by leading researchers in various communities, the success of collaborative math proofs, and the development of open lab notebooks — I expect that vision will be a long time coming. Technology cannot solve social problems; the people who use the technology have to do that. Here, the main problem is determining attribution of ideas. Copyright and intellectual property is a hot topic with no clear answer in the best case, let alone when ownership of an idea (if that’s possible) is shared or in dispute.

On the academic side, attribution is important for career advancement. Until we find a measure to contribution to group efforts, tenure and promotion committees will continue to rely heavily on individual publication count. One obvious answer is to rely on reputation in the community by soliciting references from members of the field, but this feels like passing the buck, since referees also need a way to measure contribution.

We can’t wait for the social process to evolve. We have to start by contributing ideas and being part of the discussion. We need to encourage our students — and ourselves — to find connections within this framework just as we  encourage attendance at job fairs and networking events. Since I can’t ask my students to do what I can’t or won’t, I’ll devote a few minutes each day this year to writing. And, just in case you’re a student of mine and I have just bullied you into starting an online portfolio for your project, here’s a link to a great post about starting to blog.

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One Comment leave one →
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