In collaboration with the estimable Vivan Siegel, I’m writing a series of op/ed articles on the future of scientific publishing. The first of these was about the challenges of filtering the scientific literature. The second piece, explores the prospect of using “Web 2.0” approaches to accelerate scientific progress. The article starts from the assumption that sharing is a good thing, and considers the ways in which social networking and other types of internet-powered tools might help scientists share more efficiently. We begin with a description of a long-term, somewhat pie-in-the-sky goal before returning to earth to evaluate the current state of the art (link):

This revolution will be digitized:
online tools for radical collaboration

But let us entertain the thought that the ideal size of the collaborative unit might be much larger than the average research group of today, and that we lived in a world in which scientific efforts were organized around this principle. How might evolving information technologies allow science to progress more rapidly? In such a world, we might choose to organize scientific efforts differently: not according to physical proximity in labs or departments, but rather by aptitude, expertise and availability. Rather than thinking of projects as the virtual property of small groups, we would simply broadcast ideas (or data) until they reached the right person(s) to take the next step. …

In other words, what if you could think a thought at the world and have the world think back? What if everyone in the world were in your lab – a ‘hive mind’ of sorts, but composed of countless creative intellects rather than mindless worker ants, and one in which resources, reagents and effort could be shared, along with ideas, in a manner not dictated by institutional and geographical constraints?

There’s another piece in the works, probably about the publication of results that fall below the threshold of a “publishable unit”. Others have written extensively on this subject, and there are a number of solutions to this problem out in the wild, so I’m currently absorbing all of that information and determining whether I have original thoughts on the subject.

ResearchBlogging.orgPatil, C., & Siegel, V. (2009). This revolution will be digitized: online tools for radical collaboration Disease Models and Mechanisms, 2 (5-6), 201-205 DOI: 10.1242/dmm.003285

A couple of months ago I lamented that scientific blogging would probably be unable to serve as an effective “filter” for the scientific literature. Scientists struggle to keep up with the literature in their own field (let alone related fields), and it would be nice if someone could pre-screen emerging papers in a way that would decrease the time and effort involved in keeping current. For a variety of reasons, I think it’s unlikely that science blogs will be able to serve this function.

But filtering isn’t the only justification for the existence of science blogs, as is made clear by a recent bumper crop of blog posts and articles about science blogging. Blogging can help an individual scientist share ideas with colleagues and spread the word about one’s own work. Some see blogs as increasingly essential to the process of self-promotion, whereas others see an opportunity to fill growing holes in the fabric of conventional science journalism. There is a consensus that blogging is less prestigious than other kinds of scientific publishing, but as participation grows, this may change.

In rough order of the ideas presented in the previous paragraph, I present these pieces here for your delectation:

Lately I’ve been frequenting The Life Scientists room at the social networking/ microblogging/ forum site FriendFeed. I’ve been getting a lot out value out of it (I even used it to research an article I’m writing about social networking in science), so I wanted to mention it to other biologists who might be looking to take the plunge into the Web 2.0 world.

The room’s population is highly enriched in bioinformaticists, computational biologists and open-science advocates, so if those are interests of yours then you’ll find the discussions especially interesting. But if you’re not one of those things, don’t let that stop you; I’m hoping to see more experimental biologists join in. There are lot of conversations going on about new tools for science, but sometimes I feel like there aren’t enough experimentalists taking the opportunity to find out about the latest developments.

At the moment there’s no FF room devoted to biogerontology, but I suspect there’s not a big enough population of likely participants to give such a room momentum. Besides, we’re part of the larger edifice of biology; I’d rather talk with lots of different kinds of scientists than actively seek out isolation (and thereby risk becoming provincial).

(I’m also helping FriendFeed debug a feature that allows automated republishing of blog posts to twitter, so I thought it would be appropriate to make an entry about FriendFeed while I test the feature’s settings.)

Paul House has started a project that should be of wide interest to Ouroboros readers: a Timeline of Discoveries in the Science of Aging. His goal is to facilitate the creation of a record of the major events in the history of (bio-)gerontology, and publish it in a visual interactive form that grows in response to user input. Clicking on an individual event along the timeline expands it into a full article.

In Paul’s words (from a comment he made here earlier):

I have also been thinking about how to keep up with all the information, and struck on the idea of creating a timeline, that could maybe be a wiki(user driven).

My idea is to build a database of research on aging, keeping track of the date, name, institution, funding, technology, and tags. Then have the database/timeline filtered by any of those variables. I.E. Just show papers by one author…etc…

Anyway, I submit the link here if anyone would be willing to give feedback, of any kind, it would be much appreciated:

Timeline:
http://science-of-aging.healthaliciousness.com/timelines/science-of-aging-timeline.php

Entry:
http://science-of-aging.healthaliciousness.com/timelines/aging-entry.php

This technique could be of general utility in storing and displaying the historical record within a field — Paul has also initiated a timeline reflecting important milestones in the cell theory of life.

The idea is for the site to be interactive in multiple ways — not only in the sense that the timeline is a clickable object that expands in response to user behavior, but also in the sense that user-generated content can be incorporated into the object itself. It’s like a visual wiki.

So if you can think of a major event in the history of our field that belongs on the chart, visit the Science of Aging timeline and make an entry. (As soon as I post this I’m going to submit an entry about the Hayflick limit, which is the founding observation of my own field.)

I think this is a great idea, so I’m hoping that the community will support Paul’s effort.