9 views on how technology can transform research and open up science
Watch presentations from the Mendeley Masterclass at Social Media Week – or read synopses if you’re in a hurry
By Alice Atkinson-Bonasio Posted on 16 October 2013
In September, Social Media Week hosted a series of global events around the theme "Open and Connected," with over 25,000 attendees in eight cities. The largest of these was in London, where Mendeley hosted a "masterclass" about how technology is changing research.
Nine speakers gave presentations and had a conversation with attendees, exploring how technological tools can help researchers not only to organize content, but discover and interact with it in new and exciting ways, accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and enabling the public to play a role in that process through the citizen science movement.
Here are the presentations:[divider]
Mendeley: 'Capturing the social context'
Mendeley Co-founder and President Jan Reichelt explained how Mendeley helps researchers organize their papers, boost their productivity, and collaborate with colleagues across the globe. He pointed out that Mendeley is not just a set of productivity tools that helps researchers organize their papers, but a platform that fosters collaboration. "Research is an inherently social activity," he said, "so Mendeley is an environment … that also crucially captures the social context that is going on around that research, so we can find out which are the hottest research topics, which papers are being read by whom, and also make more relevant recommendations based on that."
JoVE: 'Stop reading and start watching'
Rachel Greene, Director of Marketing at JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments), challenged researchers to "stop reading and start watching," saying that the majority of the time scientists fail to accurately replicate the findings of key studies. She said technologies like the one used in their peer-reviewed journal are much more suited for that purpose than traditional print and can therefore dramatically increase reproducibility and the pace of scientific discovery.
Elsevier: Evolving the Article of the Future
Dr. IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Elsevier's Senior VP of Journal and Content Technology, also talked about the need for innovation in science communication, using the example of the Article of the Future project – an ongoing initiative to "revolution" the presentation of the traditional academic paper.
In the past everything was recorded on paper, yet current science is very digital. All the records are digital, all the capturing of scientific data is digital, and the communication of that information of course is also digital. However the traditional publishers have not yet adapted to that, what they usually do is flatten the multidimensional, rich research that an author has created into a two-dimensional paper of text and images.
He presented some tantalizing possibilities, including the ability to run variations of some experiments – in computer science for example – within the parameters of the article itself, making it a living, evolving piece of collaborative research.
The Lancet: 'A lancet can be an arched window to let light in ...'
Nicolai Humphreys, Web Editor of The Lancet, told of how the meaning of the journal's name came from the fact that "a lancet can be an arched window to let light in and can also be a sharp surgical instrument to cut out the dross" — and that upon founding the journal in 1823, Thomas Wakley stated his intention that the publication should serve both those functions. Fast-forward nearly 200 years, and Nicolai is part of the team that is using technology to cut out the dross and make academic publishing more dynamic and cutting edge.
Teem Cooper: Gaming for science
Emma Cooper, Business Development Director of Team Cooper, described the journey that took their digital amusements company to developing a Facebook game with The Sainsbury Laboratory to help harness the brainpower of citizen scientists to tackle Ash Dieback disease. Quoting Dr. Dan MacLean, who approached them about building the game with their data, she said, "Humans are smart and humorous, and we love games."
The key to the success of Fraxinus is the human ability to recognize patterns, and this proved really addictive with players (over 38,000 in the first month), who spend 20 minutes on average playing the game, where the average tends to be around 5 to 10 minutes.
Zooniverse: crowdsourcing science
This is what Robert Simpson, Researcher and Developer at the citizen science web portal Zooniverse, calls "cognitive surplus," or the vast amount of time we collectively spend in activities such as watching TV. "The human race spends 16 years' worth of time every hour playing Angry Birds. … There's a lot of brainpower out (there), and what we try to do is take that brainpower and make it more useful to researchers."
Zooniverse works with researchers to design sites that take their data and present it into a format that will let "the crowd" help them to achieve their objectives. In the case of Snapshot Serengeti, for example, this meant classifying the millions of pictures taken over two years by camera traps in Tanzania to provide new insight into wildlife dynamics.
Citizen Cyberlab: Technology for 'citizen science'
"These days with modern technology, citizen science is becoming a fresh new hot subject in science," said Margaret Gold, Director and Co-Founder of the Mobile Collective. She spoke of their project Citizen Cyberlab, which is leveraging the Web, mobile phones and other tools and platforms to enable crowd-sourced scientific research. "We give people across the globe an interactive means to either help with the collection of data or the processing of data, pattern recognition and so forth, and all this makes a very genuine contribution towards science," she said.
Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris: 'Changing the world many kids at a time'
Dr. Rayna Stamboliyska, a Research Fellow and Digital Content Coordinator at the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, believes that technology can be used to bring research into primary schools, and that "we can change the world many kids at a time." In these programs, PhD fellows work with school children to develop research projects, using various technologies and social media. "This not only engages them in the STEM curricula at a young age," she said, "but it's a really gender-neutral policy, so we're addressing the problem of having so few women in science."
Indiegogo: The secret to crowdfunding
Despite the potential, those who conduct ground-breaking research can struggle to find suitable funding. It was therefore interesting to hear from Indiegogo's Liz Wald about how crowdfunding can help scientists to facilitate their projects. "It's really about getting rid of gatekeepers, knocking down barriers and taking ideas right to the crowd," she said.
She showed a few of the projects that were crowdfunded through Indiegogo, such as Kite Patch (a patch that lets people avoid mosquito bites) and uBiome (where you sent off swabs of your bacteria to them so that they could let you know more about yourself and also help the wider project to sequence the Microbiome). Her message: people will not only fund cool and useful gadgets but all forms of science – as long as you tell a good story.