Science Online London 2011

It is hard not to get carried away in a room full of people who seem mostly to want the same things. You come away from a conference like Science Online thinking that the open science revolution is inevitable, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Then you get back to your day job and talk of REF and impact factors and get bought back to earth with a bump.

#solo11 tweets

Word Cloud of #solo11 Tweets (tagxedo.com)

The take home message of the conference this year seemed to be this: for open science to work, long term, reward mechanisms within the profession have to change in a comprehensive and profound way. Do I think this is possible? Of course. Do I think this is inevitable? Not by a long chalk. There are too many parties with a vested interest in things remaining the same, some of whom were represented here, despite all of the talk being about openness.

NPG certainly don’t seem that interested in opening things up too far, as the breakout session on APIs demonstrated. Nothing outside of their paywall was discussed, even more broadly applicable tools, like Connotea, seem to be quietly dropped in the background. The research councils are still more interested in “impact” (whatever that means) than genuinely original thinking.

But for all this pessimism, there are interesting things happening, and a mainstream breakthrough becomes more likely as the volume of those agitating for change grows. MaryAnn Martone‘s keynote was genuinely inspiring, a clear case for breaking down the garden walls. Michael Nielsen made a compelling case for wholesale revolution (however unlikely I think this sort of change may be). We showed that in an afternoon, you can set up a collaborative blog and populate it with interesting scientific content, using freely available tools. The interest we always encounter for the Knowledgeblog project enthuses me, and encourages me that something similar will make hay someday soon (even if we don’t manage to be the people who make the breakthrough).

It may be difficult for me to get to SoLo12, but I will try very hard to return, because I always leave with a smile on my face.

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