Archive for the 'interview' category

Interview with Guerilla Science on Revolutionising how audiences experience science

Sep 12 2016 Published by under culture of science, friday fun, interview

I wish I knew how many times per week I get pitched opportunities to "interview" brave, unconventional, innovative "scientists" on my blog. Too many to count, most weeks. The pseudoscience PR whirlpool is vast and slippery. But there's also the legitimate "Hey, somebody at my university just published this thing, maybe you want to talk to them" pitch. While often interesting, that's not really what I do on this blog. I don't really do science explainers.

But once in a while, a pitch resonates. And such is the case with the pitch I got from Guerilla Science a few weeks ago. I'd heard of them but didn't really have a clear idea of who or what they were. So I poked around their website. And was seriously impressed.

Who and what are they, you ask? I'll let them explain for themselves.

Guerilla Science create events and installations for festivals, museums, galleries, and other cultural partners. We are committed to connecting people with science in new ways, and producing live experiences that entertain, inspire, challenge and amaze.

Based in London and New York, we work with a diverse set of clients, from Glastonbury Festival and the Barbican to Kensington Palace and the Wellcome Collection. All of our projects involve collaborations with practising scientists, who we work with to develop everything from games and workshops to dining events and theatre.

So, I thought to myself, why not. Resurrect my long-dormant interview series and send off a bunch of questions and see what the Gueurills Scientists have to say for themselves.

The interview questions below were actually answered by KyleMarian Viterbo of Guerilla Science. Enjoy!

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1. Tell us a little about the Guerilla Science team and how you all got started on this adventure.

The Guerilla Science team is a diverse group of people with a passion for creating unconventional science-inspired events for adults. Our team members have experience working across a wide range of science disciplines and creative fields -- from researching, to teaching, to producing events and even performing shows. Our team is split between the US and the UK, and we produce events at music festivals and in cities throughout the year.

Guerilla Science originated in a UK music festival called Secret Garden Party (SGP) way back in 2008. It started out, in its beta-format, as a TED-like science tent that offered talks, workshops, and activities at SGP. It happened because 5 science graduates -- who had a deep love for the playfulness and culture-focus of music festivals -- decided to pitch it as an "Action Camp" idea (areas of fun activities for SGP festival goers). If the organizers liked the idea, they gave you a platform to explore and deliver it further. Lucky for us, they did, and it turned out to be wildly successful. It seemed that people at a music festival were not expecting to stumble across a tent discussing things like String Theory and Black Holes, or smelting metals or handling small animals. Eight years ago, what we brought to the music festival scene was totally unexpected and we’ve continued to grow ever since.

 
 

2. Why "guerilla?" An interesting choice of metaphor, to be sure, but it also conjures a bit of spy novel and a bit of Rambo.

The "Guerilla" in our name was both a product of necessity (we wanted to make "Science Tent" a bit sexier), but also an integral aspect of our team’s approach to how we create events and who we bring them to. Why infiltrate a music festival scene when you can get science at science festivals and science museums? Spaces for fun, informal science events already existed with audience members who seek it out and know exactly what they’re going to get, so why bother? -- but it’s not quite the same as creating spaces for science and play specifically for adults.

When we were starting out, there weren’t really the same kinds of informal science and play spaces specifically for adults. They often targeted families and children and the ethos was that what works for them should work fine for adults, too. We hooked on to the "guerilla" ideology of subversiveness, disguise, and revolution because we’re infiltrating cultural spaces and challenging people’s expectations of where science events are found and who they’re for. "Guerilla" was just a great fit for us.

 
 

3. When reading all the science-themed graphic novels around, the thing that always pops up in my mind is that so many of them are trying to use a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Sometimes it works brilliantly, sometimes in just the same old dry and boring text but with a few funny pictures. What’s been the most successful campaign you’ve done so far? What’s fallen a bit short.

We don’t really do campaigns, but our most successful projects are ones where the science is an integral part of the story and the audience experience -- where we don’t feel like we’re "Sci-Splaining" nature and the universe. Just like any outstanding science-themed work and storytelling, the best ones are when you feel there’s a purpose to all of its components and they’ve been used properly, not just dressing it up. Part of our mission is to facilitate moments where the audience enjoys themselves while also connecting with the science embedded in the experience because we don’t just want to dress up a lecture.

For us, the audience and their perspective is at the heart of our events and we’ve figured out exactly how the science narrative matches up with the creative component. In the UK, for example, we created a "Decontamination Chamber" in the middle of a very wet Glastonbury Festival where festival goers walked into a beaming, white tent in a sea of mud, then proceeded through a physical and psychological decontamination. It pushed our limits in terms of what we could pull off creatively and experientially, but also in terms of bringing lab-based scientists to spaces they rarely find themselves in with their work. We felt it was a huge success because the science we highlighted fit so well with the environment, the event’s narrative, and the mentality of our audience participants. (Check out the video here.)

Where we feel we have fallen short are in managing participant’s expectations. In pushing boundaries and doing undermining the norm, there’s bound to be disappointment. For example, Sensory Speed Date (where audience members get sensual with strangers while blindfolded in order to explore the science behind attraction) works incredibly well within the playful spaces of music festivals, but we’re still working on the best way to both market and reformat SSD as a stand-alone city-event where the words "Speed-Dating" carry a specific meaning. Some people coming to the event have been disappointed it wasn’t a more traditional speed dating event they’re used to attending. People still walk away enjoying the night, but we’re continuing to explore how best to merge the science with the creative experience.

 
 

4. Music, theatre, comedy, party planning, installations, and more. Definitely not your mother/father’s journal article. What are the challenges is conceptualizing scientific ideas in these non-scientific article formats.

We work closely with scientists, artists, freelancers, designers of all sorts. To make any creative collaboration successful, participants need to understand each other and each others’ goals very well. The challenge for us isn’t necessarily the conceptualizing part. Sometimes it’s facilitating idea exchange so it’s fruitful and efficient.

Managing collaborator expectations can also be a challenge. There’s the normal hurdles of collaborating with a bunch of people who have very different expertise, but sometimes it’s also helping researchers understand the difference between "dumbing down" information and providing access to it. It’s essential when you’re working within the time limits of a given event or show. Like I said before, at the core of the Guerilla Science event is our audience experience, so that can be a bigger conceptual challenge for collaborators than translating scientific ideas from article to stage.

 
 

5. Stephon Alexander’s new book The Jazz of Physics draws a parallel between the kind of improvisation that jazz musicians do with the kind of mathematical and physical creative imagination that theoretical physicists need in their research. Is that something you’re aiming at?

There’s a lot to be said about the art of improvisation as both performance and communication. I’m guessing though that what you’re actually pertaining to is an aspect of Alexander’s writing where he discusses how both musician and theoretical physicist know the end note/hypothesis, but can have a million ways to get there?

On a philosophical end, I guess you can say it’s somewhat similar. Much like any other informal science organization out there, we want to show everyone a different way of appreciating science and research -- far beyond what you normally get in textbooks, classrooms, lecture halls, or even science shows. But our mission and vision for creating the kinds of events we make and bringing it to the kinds of audiences we seek out go beyond that.

We don’t just want to be another "science-is-cool-so-go-home-and-spread-the-good-word" organization. Our focus is less on the performer interpreting what’s in their minds -- for the jazz musician, it’s music; for scientists, it’s their body of knowledge. Our purpose is to create environments where our audience can experience those moments and realizations for themselves. Then they can walk away thinking, "Man, that was fun!" and that’s that. Or maybe they walk away having connected with the scientific content on a deeper level. It’s what some of the best pieces of art do, and we take a lot of inspiration from that.

 
 

6. Where to from here? What are the next steps in your campaign of world science promotion supremacy?

We don’t see ourselves as a science PR organization at all, but we do want people to experience science as a cultural phenomenon. In an ideal world we want get to a point where the Sciences are fully integrated in our culture, just as much as the Arts are -- so in fulfilling our vision, we’re going to continue creating events that empower other people to mix science with their favorite creative discipline, be it art, music, or performance. To do that, we’re looking forward to bringing our experiences to the Symbiosis Gathering at the end of September, but also to more and more spaces and communities elsewhere. And later this year we’re hoping to launch an open residency to get more of the community involved in the act.

No responses yet

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Sarah Boon, Editorial Manager of Science Borealis

Feb 12 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, interview, Politics

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

During the first few months of 2014 I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Today's subject is Sarah Boon, Editorial Manager of Canadian science blogging aggregator Science Borealis. Sarah has straddled the worlds of freelance writing/editing and academic science for the past 15 years. She blogs at Watershed Moments about the environment, science communication & policy, and women in science. She is a member of the Canadian Science Writer's Association, Editor's Association of Canada, and The Explorer’s Club, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2013. Find her on Twitter: @snowhydro.

Sarah's article in the iPolitics series was An ‘abundance’ of bears: Aglukkaq cold-shoulders the science.

Previous subjects include: Paul Dufour, Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy; University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove and University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner.

Enjoy!

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Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I consider myself a reluctant (and lately – lapsed) academic. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with organized education, from skipping elementary school because I had ‘headaches’, to planning on dropping out of university after my first year. But I stuck with it, got my BSc in Physical Geography at UVic, and went on to do an MSc in Glaciology at UAlberta. I’d worked out that I could manage two (or so) years of graduate education, and I was planning to go into science writing and editing immediately afterwards.

However, I ended up converting my MSc into a PhD (UAlberta 2005), I did a brief postdoc in paleohydrology (UVic), and then I landed a teaching position through which I started research into snow, forests, and mountain pine beetle and wildfire (UNBC). That pretty much launched the rest of my research career. One day I looked around and I had tenure, a thriving research group, and lots of interesting stuff to work on.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however. At the same time that I was ascending the academic ladder, the political climate for environmental science was becoming dicey. Funding was getting scarce: It was five years in before I was awarded an NSERC Discovery Grant, even though I ticked all the boxes of being a successful researcher. The criteria had become increasingly stringent as funds became scarcer. Opportunities like the Research Tools and Instruments Grant and the Major Resources Support grant were cancelled. I came within a hair of being awarded a prestigious Alberta Ingenuity award, but at the last minute they reduced the number of grants to meet new budget restrictions, and I was one of the scientists left on the cutting room floor.

I’d also become more aware of the role of women in academia – and in science in particular. I was blissfully ignorant of these issues throughout my university education and first faculty position, as I wasn’t as involved in the broader research community. But as I moved farther along, I realized my voice was considered less relevant and carried less weight simply because it was female.

I reached a point where my world was under siege by external forces, and I needed to do something about it. These political and gender-related issues weren’t going to sort themselves out on their own, and they weren’t just affecting me – they were affecting my community.

I define science advocacy as being a scientist in public: sharing your knowledge with friends, colleagues and acquaintances in a conversational way that builds on interaction rather than pedantic lectures. In tandem with this approach, I advocate for breaking down the barriers between academia and the public. I don’t believe that academic science should be done in a vacuum, and I’ve always been keen to involve industry, government, communities and citizens.

These beliefs, however, require fighting a war on multiple fronts. On the one hand you’re working to save science from the government’s axe – whether it’s funding, resources, people, legislation, programs…the list goes on. For this fight to be successful, however, you have to battle on a second front: helping non-scientists understand why science is worth saving. As a scientist, I want make that clear, but it’s not easy given that you’re not just working with facts – you also have to account for cultural identities and norms. But there’s a third front as well: the academic establishment itself, which often looks down on science communication efforts. As grad students we weren’t trained in communication because it doesn’t count the same way a publication does as a line on your CV – so hiring committees and granting bodies don’t give you credit for these types of activities. In some cases you’re considered a less serious scientist who’s not totally committed to the research if you dabble in science communication.

It’s a bit of a Gordian knot, which I sometimes feel stuck in the middle of, trying to find the loose end of string that will pull it all apart.

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

It’s difficult to pick one thing. Perhaps the biggest issue is the government’s ideological approach to governance rather than a sound, evidence-based approach. It’s also important to note their scorched earth policy of destroying records or datasets that could be useful to future governments. For example, the long form census, data from the long gun registry, books from a range of government libraries, well-established research groups/programs with long data histories (e.g., PEARL, ELA, Marine Contaminants at DFO, etc.)

Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

Re: the Harper government increasing overall funding for science – Kennedy Stewart gave a great summary in his latest letter to Greg Rickford regarding public input to the Science & Technology Strategy. Stewart outlines that funding for science has decreased when you factor in inflation, that we are falling behind OECD countries (not G7 countries which is the statistic the CPC likes to use), and that funding is now tied largely to industry via applied research, while basic research has been hung out to dry.

As for the muzzling issue…government always wants to control the message. This government seems to take it further than previous governments, though I don’t know enough political history to say that absolutely. I think agreements on what employees can discuss are appropriate – but those agreements also need to be appropriate to the times. Public servants should be allowed to discuss their work unless there are national defense issues at stake – and by discuss, I mean talk to the media, give presentations and answer questions publicly, blog and/or tweet, and publish in peer-reviewed journals without requiring the signature of a manager who has no sense of how science even works.

Scientists don’t make policy – that’s the job of government. But they should be able to talk about the relevance of their research to policy in a way that anyone can understand. If different interest groups can talk about the impacts of policies on their constituents, then scientists should be able to talk about the effect of their science on the policies themselves. By subjecting employees to restrictions on media access, restrictions on collaborators talking about research, and more, the government creates a climate of mistrust and suppression that casts future interactions with them in a negative light.

Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kind of science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

I think they’ll have more of a graveyard than a blank slate. The challenge for the next government will be to kickstart Canadian innovation in areas outside of the resource industries. To regain the trust and support of the scientific community. To salvage what they can to try and rebuild the scientific enterprise in Canada AND link it soundly back to policy.

Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

This is a tough one. In his interview with you, Paul Dufour identified some phenomenal science advocacy movements that have sprung up in response to what Chris Turner calls the war on Canadian science. Many of these are spearheaded by scientists who never imagined they’d be in the public spotlight, vocally advocating for science. I think these groups represent one end of the spectrum, however, and many scientists – no matter how far they’re pushed – are very uncomfortable in the type of advocacy role that scientists like Katie Gibbs and Diane Orihel have taken on so ably.

Some of my colleagues are figuring out how to work within the new system: get funding for applied research, put some of the people hours or equipment on double duty to support what we call Saturday afternoon science. Projects done on the side with the least resources, but that further the basic research goals of your scientific field. This is admirable and resourceful, and - speaking from personal experience of cobbling together applied research funding for years while doing basic research on the side - can yield good results. But it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

That’s what I hope scientists will think about. Step outside of your individual research program or your group research projects. Look at what you used to do for research and what you do now – or, if you’re a newer researcher, look at what your older colleagues used to work on and what they work on now. Look at the workload (more grant applications for smaller amounts of money, each of which requires more and more reporting), with fewer graduate students because: (a) there’s less funding for them; and, (b) we’re not doing a great job of exposing graduates to careers outside of the academy. Consider how things might be in the future, with continually shrinking budgets for research in general, for basic research in particular, and for the university and public systems within which many scientists operate. Can you picture what Canadian science will look like in 5, 10, even 15 years?

Then consider what you can do, even in a small way, to support science. Write to or call your MP. Support an existing science advocacy movement through donations of time or funds. Talk to your students and colleagues about the issues. Talk to your non-scientist friends about what you do and why it’s interesting and potentially useful. Write a letter to the editor, or a guest column in the local paper about what you’re working on and why non-scientists might be interested in it. Hold an open house for your lab, give a talk at the local museum or science centre.

Make science an issue in the 2015 election.

One response so far

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Paul Dufour, Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy

Jan 13 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, interview, Politics

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Paul Dufour, principal of science and technology consulting firm PaulicyWorks and Fellow and Adjunct Professor with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa is today's subject. His articles in the the iPolicy series are Let Canadian science off the leash and, with Scott Findlay, Why Canada needs a science watchdog.

Previous subjects include: University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove and University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner.

Enjoy!

===================================================

Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I am a self-professed science policy junkie. I got hooked early on with my studies at McGill, Concordia (science and human affairs), and Université de Montréal (Institut d'histoire et de sociopolitique des sciences). The latter was great fun since I was exposed to all of the leading thinkers in science and tech policy of the late 70s when science policy was emerging as a field (de Solla Price -- who probably gave the best course I have ever taken, King, Rose and Rose, Brooks, Freeman, Landes, Kuhn, Gibbons, Salomon, Ben-David, Schroeder, Rosenberg, Sabato, Niosi, etc..).

I was lucky -- out of UdeM, I got a job offer to work at the Science Council of Canada and never really looked back doing stints at virtually every organization that did science policy including working for and with several ministers of science (and we have had some good ones in the past) while also developing an expertise in international science relations with DFAIT and IDRC (science counselors, IIASA, APEC, NAFTA, Commonwealth science, OECD, etc.) .

As a result, I am an unusual hybrid that has both an academic and actual policy-making background in this area (e.g.; I helped with the development of the Canada's first and only National S&T Policy in 1986-87 under Mulroney, the Chretien S-T-I policies of 1996 and 2002; shaped science advice with the ACST and CSTA; worked to ensure a sound platform for the IPY, and kept the the creation of the CCA alive through its various iterations, and of course, articled with the National Science Adviser -- Dr. Carty -- from 2005-2008). I also have an unusual ability to close down places wherever I go -- so a word to the wise!

That said, I am quite familiar with advocacy in its many forms -- from lobby groups looking for more money (AUCC was especially good at this as were several university presidents, and someone by the name of Howard Burton who almost single-handedly got the federal funding for the Mike Lazaridis Perimeter Institute in Waterloo- see his great book First Principles) to international pressure for Canada to join science-research clubs (the many Carnegie Group meetings of the G8 science ministers and advisers I had the privilege of attending were particularly useful on this front). I have also been quite keen to support efforts on research capacity building in Africa and other developing regions, hence my continued role on the evaluation committees of Grand Challenges Canada and ISTPCanada for example.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

This is a tough question...all governments screw up at some point or other, but this one seems to take the cake (and I have tasted a lot of cakes!). In several respects, the Harper regime is a bit of a retro one harkening back to the US Bush Jr. days when elites/scholars were not to be trusted and ideology was the ruling paradigm. Clearly, the inability of the Harper apparatchik to recognize the value of evidence in decision-making has been problematic, if not willfully blind. The StatsCan cuts, the elimination of the NSA and NRTEE, the crime bills and gun registry policies will prove to be detrimental in the long run and will no doubt hamper effective decision-making in future governments on behalf of Canadians. But I have learned that governments come and go and pendulums do swing back.
 

Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

Governments are in the business of controlling information --it is bred in their bones as Frye would say. But what this government has yet to learn is that in a social media world, it is no longer possible to manage and massage all messaging (see Snowden and Assange on this). The reaction to the muzzling issue has been poorly handled to say the least with the result that Canada's once respected science image globally has suffered. A simple remedy (at little cost) would have been for the Harperites to issue a public statement with guidelines for the scientist-media interface respecting the usual government protocols all the while understanding that stuff has to get out in a timely fashion and that government scientists can speak to their area of expertise. The CSTA had a Cabinet-approved set of guidelines on this during the Chretien years -- it would be a simple matter to revive and adapt these and a lot of the angst around the "big chill" could be addressed -- at least within the government. Whether this would adequately address the damage done elsewhere is another matter.

As for the the increased funding argument, it is a specious one...stats are always selective and usually out of date...for example, Canada is now below Ireland, Australia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic in its GERD/GDP ratio...and ranks 21st overall globally -- you won't see this on any Harper Government communiques.
 

Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kind of science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

No incoming government has a blank slate -- they are all saddled with stuff from previous regimes. Clearly, the fear factor that has impacted our government science apparatus and its scientists will take some time to overcome with a more meaningful recognition of public good science in the national innovation eco-system; and the "prudential acquiesence" of our science and business leadership who have stood by without speaking out for fear of more cuts will have to be addressed with a more propitious environment and less politically-driven appointments. An actual longer-term vision of why science and innovation matter to economy and society will need to be articulated and Canada's standing abroad as a real player must be aggressively developed to overcome the dubious Fossils of the Year distinctions.

Yet another vapid federal STI strategy now being trundled out with limited consultations and no sense of urgency will not cut it...close collaboration with provinces, territories and municipalities where the action is will be required if Canada is to move forward and "seize the moment" of our 150th anniversary.
 

Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

I have laid out some suggestions on advocacy in various opinion pieces for Research Money, The Hill Times and iPolitics. I am heartened by new science advocacy movements we have never seen before in Canada. Evidence for Democracy, PIPS, Association science et bien commun, the ELA advocacy and other groups that have mobilized to make the case for public science and evidence in public policy...they are to be commended.

I believe the scientific, health and engineering communities in this country are awakening to their political advocacy potential -- they just need a bit more guidance to make more meaningful policy impact (which is why I teach science policy 101 to our next generation science students). The recent NDP motion to create a Parliamentary Science Officer is a helpful step to get a debate going with our elected representatives. There are other exciting ventures out there like Startup Canada, Science Media Centre, the McGill Science & Policy Exchange, and the College of New Artists, Scholars and Scientists that show the willingness and ability of our youth to take up new challenges for Canada's knowledge frontiers...These should all be encouraged.

It should also be kept in mind that science policy is ultimately social science and our scientific community with these other knowledge sectors need to work together more -- see the ISSP Decalogue for more on this.

Above all and despite recent press coverage, I am convinced public service remains a worthwhile vocation in this country -- and science is a critical handmaiden to our democracy, nation-building and culture. Our scientists should try to engage more actively as citizens in this process; there are some great role models out there!! And please celebrate our science contributions past, present and future!

No responses yet

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Jonathan Turner, Historian of Science, University of Toronto

Jan 06 2014 Published by under Canada, interview, Politics

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

University of Toronto historian of science Jonathan Turner is today's subject.

Previous subjects include: University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove.

Enjoy!

===================================================

Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I'm trained as a historian of science, specifically science in government including science advocacy. Even for that unorthodox field my background is unusual. My first degree was in history and philosophy at York University - I was particularly interested in the interaction between scientists and politicians on nuclear and nuclear defence issues in the United States. Immediately after that I started a second undergraduate degree in physics, which I completed in 3 years thanks to a couple of transfer credits and Waterloo's 3-term setup. After that I started graduate studies at the University of Toronto in the history and philosophy of science and technology, and I continued to be fascinated by defence sciences – I defended a thesis on the history of the Defence Research Board in 2012.

I think there are probably three messages I have to share in the science advocacy community. The first two are gleaned from years of studying science advocacy and the current situation, the final message is a cautionary prediction.

First, in spite of what C.P. Snow says about the differences between the two cultures (which is, of course, a problematic construct), it’s important to remember the most important similarity – scientists are people and people have foibles. Sometimes people make sound decisions, sometimes we don't; sometimes our decisions have a positive impact, sometimes they don't. More scientific, technical, and academic voices in the democratic process would be a good thing, but technocracy (the extreme position) is as undesirable as any other form of oligarchy.

Second, what we're seeing from the current version of populist conservatism is an emphasis on the importance of people's experiences and instincts, which is generally accompanied by a denigration of expertise. This means that it's not just scientists whose knowledge is coming into question, but every 'elite' who has spent years refining their knowledge of a specific topic. For experts, this means it's not enough to rely on credentials, we have to be persuasive (or, if you look at C.P. Snow’s other study of science in government, well connected like Frederick Lindemann – later Lord Cherwell).

Third, and finally, traditional academic silos are a constant barrier to the kinds of results the science advocacy community would like to achieve. Historians, political scientists, geographers, anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, economists, etc. all have interesting expertise to share about the nuances of decision-making and policy-formation. But in a world where funding for studies is so competitive, we've trained ourselves to talk about our own project as if it is the single most important study, which leads many of us to believe that our expertise and experience are uniquely and exclusively important. An optimist might believe that we're so focused on our own work that we forget that there are other interesting things being studied, a cynic would argue that we're driven by selfish goals of survival and self-promotion; either way, those personal and academic silos prevent us from the kind of collegiality that could lead to truly fascinating interdisciplinary understandings of the world and people around us. Without a concentrated collegiality of all experts, funds and influence will continue to go to those who are most persuasive and best connected.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

As a citizen, the things that trouble me most are the actions of this government (and several others) that reduce and/or delay accountability and transparency. A functioning democracy has to have access to government documents in a timely and reasonable fashion, and no one hired by a political party should be allowed to interfere in that process. I don't expect to agree with every decision of every government, but I would like elected representatives to justify and explain their decisions, and allow all of us to look at the evidence they used to come to a decision.

As a historian, the inconsistent response to ATIP requests is difficult professionally. The revamped 'census' is going to be problematic for my academic descendants, and is no doubt frustrating for a large number of current social scientists. Decisions regarding cultural institutions (museums, archives, etc.) are oddly fascinating insofar as I look forward to reading histories of the decision-making processes and the ways that administrators, curators, and archivists implement policies, but those decisions are also a challenge when they prevent access to information that would provide a more accurate and nuanced interpretation of the past.
 

Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

It's hard to get overly excited about this. I mean the article defending the government's position is terrible and confused, and the muzzling of scientists is frustrating for (nearly) everyone involved. However, the government came in with a mandate, and it felt it had to respond to the economic situation; message control is a time-honoured political survival tradition. Is this government doing more message control? Probably. Are we on a slippery slope to an anti-knowledge state and a propaganda machine of Big Brother proportions? Probably not. Histrionics have very limited persuasive power.
 

Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kind of science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

I don't think 'science blank slate' is anymore true with this government than any previous one. This government has a science and technology policy that favours, or that it intends to favour, business, entrepreneurship, and resource exploitation. The next government will be free to chart its own course, provided that it starts where this one leaves off – there is no sense, nor would it even be possible, to start from scratch.

That said, I'd love to see a government take an evidence-based, long-term approach to all policy creation, but elections cycles make this difficult. Further, I'd like that evidence to be broadly, democratically, and collegially construed to include everything from anecdotes to the z-test.
 

Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

Advocacy, in the sense you're talking about, means fighting to establish yourself as a privileged voice in the democratic process. So, the normal avenues of establishing a privileged voice in the democratic process apply: talk to your elected representatives, talk to your neighbours, write, contribute to election campaigns, join a political party, run for election, vote, have lots of money and influential friends, etc.

Having a more diverse group of privileged voices than we currently have would be fantastic. Having an altruistic and diverse group of privileged voices would be even better.

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Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Dak de Kerckhove, Ph.D. candidate, University of Toronto

Dec 17 2013 Published by under Canada, interview, Politics, Uncategorized

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly definined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been lying fairly fallow for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove is up first.

Enjoy!

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Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I am a fisheries biologist who through 10 years in environmental consulting and even more obtaining academic degrees has worked closely with government agencies (like Fisheries and Oceans Canada) on improving the accuracy and efficiency of environmental regulations, and with private companies on environmental permitting for large and small industrial projects (from the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline to culvert upgrades in Alberta). I am fortunate that these experiences have allowed me to sit on all sides of the table while everyone tries to balance economic development with ecological sustainability. I gradually became aware that there was a growing problem in Canada as I discovered that the only participants at this regulatory table who were clearly not interested in evidence-based policy decisions were the elected officials of our current government. Industry, regulators, consultants, contractors, and public stakeholders all favoured evidence-based solutions that could lead towards a better outcome for all. And importantly, even when my industrial clients were frustrated by the regulatory system, they understood its merits, and that scientific advancements could only improve it. My awareness turned to alarm as “belt-tightening” became the justification to cutting science-based programs (e.g. Experimental Lakes Area, Marine Pollution Prevention) even if their social, environmental and economic benefits vastly outweighed their cost. When the omnibus Bill C-38 neutered parliamentary debate on very questionable changes to established laws and our public servants could only privately voice their concerns from having being publically muzzled, I realized I had to get involved and raise my own voice for them.

The type of advocacy I was inspired to participate in is led by the examples from Kevin Page (former Parliamentary Budget Officer), Dr. David Schindler (former Professor), Brett Favaro (current PhD student), and the countless journalists doggedly filling Access to Information requests. Their example is to convey the numbers behind the political issues to the public and let them come to their own conclusions. In a sense, if one believes that science is repressed in Canada because it contradicts the ideology of the government, then objectively obtained numbers should stand on their own merit, without the need for political embellishment. This approach is attractive to me for a few reasons: 1) it starts by giving our government the benefit of the doubt and taking the statements they make at their word - which to me seems like the fairest place to start, 2) it provides everyone, including the government, with all the tools and data needed to check methods and even launch any counter arguments – which is transparent and based on peer-review, and 3) it simply allows scientists in the private arenas to state the results that their muzzled colleagues are well aware of, but not able to release, without needing to learn how to be a great publicist, debater or orator.

My first piece of advocacy was to look for the numbers behind Minister Joe Oliver’s claim that environmental legislation was holding up economic development. We couldn’t find them, and the publically available data we did find suggested instead that the great majority of reviews were efficiently done. We released this finding in a peer-review paper, as well as all the data, and offered recommendations on alternate policies that could expedite reviews. The paper is the most read in the journal since it was released in March 2013, and media outlets picked up the story and reported our findings. In that relatively small effort we achieved more than we had hoped. So it encouraged me to continue on.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

There are many policy changes that concern me, many valuable science-based programs that have been cut, and a few laws that have been perhaps unnecessarily changed, but what I am most concerned about is that the government has encouraged a public belief that all expert opinion is partisan and so should be controlled. When the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was closed, Minister John Baird argued publically that the group’s promotion of a carbon tax, which had become a partisan debate in federal politics, was the reason. When the government was criticized for muzzling scientists, Phillip Cross justified government control in his “What War on Science?” article in the Financial Post by invoking Steven Pinker’s statement that academics are biased towards the left, and government scientists are merely data gatherers without the expertise to comment on larger issues, and so both types of scientist should be controlled (by presumably someone with no scientific experience). This is an unbelievable statement by the former Chief Economic Analyst at Statistics Canada considering that 1) he above all people should recognize that it is primarily the data that has been muzzled, and 2) many of the former and current scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada are world renown and widely recognized pioneers in their field, some much more respected than the academics whose opinion he considers has more value (even if biased). The danger of this message is that it contaminates the credibility of all fields of research, and may not be so easy to reverse over time, even with a new government.

 
Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

There are others who have presented the data that at most completely counters, and at least qualifies, the statement that overall funding to science has been increased (e.g. Arthur Carty’s, Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, informative presentation at the 2013 Science Policy Forum on some of those numbers). My personal feeling is that the muzzling goes far beyond asserting a right to control a message. We’ve seen that nternational colleagues are pulling out of scientific relationships with public service scientists from the fear that their hard earned research will be buried. We’ve heard from recently retired public service scientists that anything from routine interviews with the press to discussing polluted watercourses near major urban centers was disallowed by ministry managers. We’ve seen leading economic and scientific journals weigh in that the muzzling in Canada is much worse than anything that was found in the George W. Bush administration whose policies were promptly dropped when the new administration took over. These are serious infringements on the public’s right to know the expert opinion of the scientists that we the taxpayers fund to create and maintain a better life for us all. If Philip Cross is correct, and these government scientists are simply number crunchers who couldn’t possibly comment properly on policy, then should it not be easy for the wiser scientists in middle management positions to refute their statements? That may sound a little glib, but to state my overall approach to advocacy once more, if we are take the government and their apologists at their word, then wouldn’t a public debate still be a better option than muzzling? I certainly think so, and I am one of the public, and it is also the official policy of sister scientific ministries in the United States (e.g. the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration).

 
Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kindof science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

I think there are some attractive policy directions already being discussed on both sides of the floor in the House of Commons. The Open Data Portal which was created by the Conservatives is a significant step forward towards allowing the public to access the vast databases in our ministries. With a colleague, I recently review the portal and found the current data underwhelming, but the portal is young. No matter who governs after the next election, this platform needs to be further developed, and I certainly agree with Dr. David Eaves that new legislation should carry data reporting requirements and federal Access to Information responses should be posted on the portal. The NDP MP Kennedy Stewart recently introduced private member’s bill C-558 which calls for establishing an independent Parliamentary Science Officer. This idea seems so clearly in the interest of the Canadian public, and as it is also a Liberal priority policy resolution and is so obviously related to the PBO which was a Conservative initiative, it’s surprising that anyone could characterize it as a partisan initiative and not support it. With an independent science advisor I would hope that many of the other needed scientific and environmental policies would follow suit. Many of the policy decisions of the sitting government are beyond objective comprehension and cannot be justified by any reasonable arguments. A retroactive evaluation of some of these decisions needs to be undertaken with input from the technical experts in the ministries. Some of these decisions may need to be reversed (e.g. closing of important scientific and monitoring stations, loss of a robust census), others modified (e.g. provide the resources to achieve mandatory review times of environmental assessments) and some maintained (e.g. Rouge National Urban Park).

 
Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

Its difficult to encourage scientists to speak up if they think it will harm their careers. An understanding that advocacy and opinion is not treason is important, and the best way to do that is to encourage free speech with public employees and a communication strategy that includes the caveat that a technical expert’s opinion is not necessarily that of the government (this has been achieved in the US). Beyond this step, I encourage other scientists to get involved by doing what they do best: ask questions about policy directions, seek answers by examining the available data behind decisions, and release conclusions with the supporting evidence for the public to scrutinize. This allows scientists to play a valuable role in shaping Canada’s public policy without necessarily becoming advocates of any particular movement or party, and importantly preserve their objectivity in letting the numbers do the talking.

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Interview with Mark Patterson, Executive Director of eLife

Welcome to the most recent installment in my very occasional series of interviews with people in the publishing/science blogging/computing communities. This latest installment is with Mark Patterson, Executive Director of new OA publisher eLife. I attended an ARL Directors briefing conference call on eLife with Mark a little while back, highlighting for me just how interesting this project is and just how little I knew about it before the call.

Hence, this interview.

A huge thanks to Mark for agreeing to participate!

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Q0. Mark, tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up as Executive Director of eLife?

I started my career as an academic scientist in the field of genetics. After post-docs at Oxford and Stanford and a few years as a lecturer in Cambridge, I moved into publishing in 1994 to be the editor of one of my favourite journals at the time, Trends in Genetics. I moved to Nature a few years later, and helped to launch the Nature Reviews Journals. In 2002 I got the chance to join PLOS, which I leapt at. Partly because of my background in genetics, where I’d witnessed the profound impacts of completely free and open access to genetic and genomic data, I found the vision of a fully open research literature utterly compelling (and still do!). I stayed at PLOS for the longest time I’ve spent in any job, but after nine years got the opportunity to join another wonderful project, eLife. Although it was a difficult decision to leave PLOS, I felt that working on a project supported by three outstanding funding organizations was another opportunity that was too good to miss.

 
 

Q1. What is eLife and how is it different from a traditional journal?

eLife is an open-access journal that aims to publish great research covering life science and biomedicine. More broadly, eLife is a collaboration between the funders and practitioners of science, whose collective aim is to make research communication work better. We want to assist in the transformation of science journals publishing from a system developed in print media to one that is fully adapted to digital tools and serves the interests of science.

So our starting point is to launch a great journal, and experiment with various aspects of the publishing process. First we are exploring ways to make the editorial process work more efficiently. The key innovation here is that authors receive a consolidated letter that summarises the views of the reviewers (who also consult with one another after their reports have been submitted), so that the author knows exactly what needs to be done to get the work published. The aim is to eliminate unnecessary rounds of revision and review, and get work published faster. We publish the decision letters and responses on the articles, so other researchers can see how this works. Second, we’re looking at various ways to extend the reach and utility of open content – from the design of our website, to the dissemination of content via many other platforms (Github, Mendeley, Fluidinfo, PubMed Central and so on) – and to use article metrics and indicators to expose the ways in which that content has been used.

We have a terrific opportunity to experiment and learn, and as far as we possibly can we will share the results with our community. But something I also learnt from PLOS is that it makes sense not to go too far too fast, so we’re also trying to take measured and carefully chosen steps.

 
 

Q2. I know that there will be no author processing fees to begin with, but what are the longer-term plans for financial sustainability?

You’re right, the project is completely supported by the three funders, while we work to establish eLife firmly in the research community, as a venue for great new work. Our goals for eLife are ambitious, and we’re competing for content that would otherwise be sent to journals that are not open access or supported by publication fees. The funders felt that the best way to build a reputation for innovation and excellence was to avoid any publication fees for the first few years. Once this is achieved, we will most likely introduce publication fees, and consider other revenue streams to take the project on a path towards long-term sustainability. The publishing landscape is undergoing much transition at the moment as well, so our plans for sustainability will develop over the next months and years. What’s clear though is that the stronger our scientific foundation, the better placed we will be to achieve longer-term success.

 
 

Q3. There’s lots happening in the scholarly publishing industry right now -- the Finch Report, the OSTP policy memorandum, FASTR, PeerJ, Episciences and so much more, with seemingly a startling new announcement every week or so. Where do you see the ecosystem in 5, 10 or even 20 years? Will it even be recognizable?

Having been involved in open access publishing for some time now, it does feel that the pace of change has accelerated over the past couple of years in particular. 2012 was a big year in particular because of the policy developments, especially in the UK, but 2013 has had a pretty spectacular beginning as well with lots happening in the US. My sense is that these policies will give added momentum to open-access publishing, but that the growth will be concentrated in the born open-access journals, rather than subscription journals offering a hybrid option. I could be wrong of course, but I see PLOS ONE and the new journals that it has inspired (notably BMJ Open, Scientific Reports, AIP Advances and, most recently, PeerJ) gaining ground. And then there are more experimental approaches like F1000 Research and Figshare to consider as well. Other disruptive influences will be the move towards new metrics and indicators of article impact. Pioneered by PLOS, article metrics are now being provided by quite a few journals, including Nature, and sophisticated services have been developed to deliver these metrics, such as ImpactStory and Altmetric.

So, I really can’t predict what research communication will look like in say 10 years or beyond. I would say that by then the default will definitely be ‘open’, but my feeling is that there are sufficient new approaches, services, and publication venues right now to predict that there will also be fundamental change beyond open access - both to articles as the primary vehicle for research outputs, and journals as a mechanism to organize those outputs. One possible, and radically different, future was very nicely described by Jason Priem recently in Nature.

 
 

Q4. Librarians and traditional publishers (commercial and society alike) view a lot of these developments with a mixture of excitement and unease. How do you see the roles of these types of intermediaries evolving in an ecosystem that includes eLife and all those other exciting new players?

Well, I’m definitely in the excitement camp! But I also try and appreciate the challenges faced by other constituencies involved in research communication. There are many important functions of the conventional publishing process that need to be retained in the new digital ecosystem, but how we deliver those functions might completely change. This brings all sorts of opportunities for those involved, so long as they are able to respond to a changing environment and adapt to it. Open-access publishing is now so well established, that you can see publishers large and small getting stuck in. That said, some publishers are doing this in a more committed way than others, and so I think we can expect to see new organisations emerge as powerful players (as PLOS, BMC and Hindawi have done) and others probably diminish.

I don’t have so much knowledge of the library side of things, but I’ve certainly met some creative and energetic people who are also immersing themselves in the opportunities offered by digital media. Repositories have tremendous potential to organize and present the scholarly output of a particular institution. And there will also be lots of work to be done to help users make sense of the increasingly diverse and complex array of information sources and services to support scholarship and how to use those resources in the most productive ways.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity will be in partnerships and collaborations. Having recently returned from the Beyond the PDF meeting in Amsterdam, you can’t help feeling energized and occasionally bewildered by the range of possibilities. Smart people are coming up with ideas all the time. Those of us concerned with the implementation of those ideas need to join forces with the bright minds generating them, and the other constituencies supporting the research value chain to turn those ideas into powerful, sustainable services.

 
 

Q5. There have been insinuations online (particularly in the Scholarly Kitchen) about conflicts of interest and preferential treatment in the relationship between eLife and PubMed Central. How do you respond to these accusations?

The launch of eLife is supported by three world-class funders who are motivated to make a positive difference in the world. These organisations are very familiar with the handling of competing interests, and also the need to respect the concept of editorial independence. eLife is published by a separate non-profit organisation that was incorporated in the United States, and the editors who run the journal operate entirely independently of the funders. All reputable journals operate according to this principle. We think it’s important for all journals to make the funding sources that support an article very clear, and we’re providing this information at a very granular level (source, grant number if available, and the individual funded). We’ve been very clear that all research submitted to eLife is treated equally, and we welcome outstanding work regardless of funding sources.

During the run-up to the launch of the eLife website in December last year, we were able to make some initial articles available via PubMed Central. We felt this would be a great thing to explore with PubMed Central because it would get some excellent new science out into the public domain more quickly than we could otherwise manage. It was an unusual step to take, but the world of publishing is in transition, and eLife has a mandate to push boundaries, experiment, learn from things that don’t work as well as those that do, and even have some fun along the way. When you do try out new things then you have to expect some criticism too – when I was at PLOS we were on the receiving end of some of that as well. I believe you should listen carefully to criticism, learn from it where you can, and move on.

 
 

Q6. Issues of incentives and prestige not to mention fear around hidebound tenure processes drive a lot of publishing decisions for researchers. How do you answer questions like, “Why should I publish in eLife when it’s more immediately useful to my career to publish in a famous, established journal?”

That’s the most important question for any new journal. It doesn’t matter how good your processes, infrastructure, websites are if you haven’t got any content to show. And given that eLife is aspiring to publish really great work, it’s all the more challenging for us. When faced with this question then we have to recognise what authors want out of publishing – reputational reward and an outstanding (which mostly means fast) service.

Even before we’d published any content, we had two powerful things going for us – the reputation and prestige of the funders behind eLife, and the stellar team of academic researchers who run the journal. This really helped to convince some people to submit to the journal. On top of that, the editors had devised an editorial process that we all felt could be much better than the conventional process. As mentioned above, the goals of the process are to eliminate as much as possible of the pain and wasted time that’s often experienced in publishing. Prospective authors were very interested in this aspect of eLife, and it definitely encouraged quite a few authors to give us a try.

Now that we have published over 50 articles, we are in a much stronger position. The standard of science is really good across the board, and there are some particular papers that really stand out. Plus, the response to the editorial process has been extremely positive. These first few months are absolutely critical in providing the foundation that eLife needs to really flourish, and thanks to a great initial response from the scientific community, we are off to a terrific start.

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From the Archives: Interview with Michael Morgan of Morgan & Claypool

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview with Mike Morgan is from April 24, 2007.

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It's time for another in my occasional series of scitech publishing/blogger/scientist interviews. This time around I have a few questions for Michael Morgan, formerly of Morgan Kaufmann and now with tech publishing newcomer Morgan & Claypool. I first met Mike at SLA in New York City a few years ago at a party, still well before the launch of the new product, and his ideas for what became Synthesis really struck me as a terrific idea, in many ways a possible template for the future of "book" publishing in computer science and engineering. I've been happy to support it from the beginning, as I think good work deserves our support, and I'm even happier to give Mike an opportunity to talk a bit about himself and his company's new product. Thanks, Mike!

Q0. Please tell us a little about your education & career path to this point and a bit about the thought processes that lead to the forming of Morgan & Claypool.

I've been in publishing my entire career. I graduated from Connecticut College, one of the great small American liberal arts colleges. I started my publishing career at Addison-Wesley, first as a college traveller (sales representative) and then as a computer science editor. In 1984 I was invited by William Kaufmann (former president of Freeman) and Nils Nilsson (a Stanford computer scientist) to join them in founding Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. We built Morgan Kaufmann as an independent company for 14 years and then merged with Academic Press, a subsidiary of Harcourt.

At Academic Press, I became VP of book publishing and also remained as president of Morgan Kaufmann. After three years, Reed Elsevier acquired Harcourt and therefore Academic Press and Morgan Kaufmann. At that point, I had been at Morgan Kaufmnann for 17 years and it seemed like a natural point to consider doing something else so I left and took some time off. After a few months, Joel Claypool, who was engineering publisher at Academic Press, suggested the key idea behind Synthesis and we started Morgan & Claypool to develop it. Both Joel and I are book publishers. We had observed the transition of journal publishing from print to electronic and saw that there was the opportunity to pursue some interesting publishing ideas with the technology and business models that had been created.
Q1. Could you tell us a little about what Synthesis is?

Synthesis is a large (and growing) collection of original, innovative content in engineering and computer science. We publish across about 30 areas now, for example: bioengineering, computer graphics, signal processing, artificial intelligence and are adding new areas on an ongoing basis. The documents in Synthesis are called "lectures" and are essentially 50-150 page peer reviewed book-like presentations of key topics in research and development written by active researchers. They are shorter and more targeted than typical books but broader and provide more of a "synthesis" than a journal article. Also, since they are created and delivered electronically they can be revised frequently. They can also include multimedia elements such as animations, code, video, audio, etc, although we haven't done much of that yet.

The concept of a short targeted presentation that can be updated frequently turns out to be very powerful. It enables presentation of cutting edge, active research topics that are moving too fast for books but for which there is a need for a tutorial overview. Our target audience is researchers who need to come up to speed in an area outside of their own, graduate students and advanced undergraduates, and engineers who are looking into new ideas for application. Another great application of this model is short pedagogically oriented treatments of more mature subjects that can be used for courses or professional development. Since our license encourages unlimited classroom use of Synthesis faculty can assign a lecture to supplement traditional textbooks at no additional cost to the student.
Q2. In reference to Synthesis, who's harder to convince that the model is a good one, faculty or librarians? Have you had a lot of feedback from teaching faculty and students so far, or are you not getting much from them yet?

Although we have had very gratifying support from our library community, the most active initial excitement came from faculty. I have personally discussed this idea with hundreds of faculty in computer science and have never in my career heard such enthusiasm for a publishing idea. The Synthesis lecture fills the need for a vehicle to present a first synthesis of a new field for students and researchers in other areas. As science and engineering expand and become more interdisciplinary, there is a growing need to understand new areas. Most journal articles are not very useful for this since their purpose is to record new research and not to summarize and synthesize the state of the art.

On the other hand, the business model for traditional books makes them equally unsuitable for the presentation of material that will need updating within a year. Faculty are very aware of this gap since they live with it every day. A strong indicator of their enthusiasm is the number of prominent researchers who have volunteered to author, edit and referee lectures. These are typically people who would not take time from their research to write books but who have seen what a strong contribution a lecture can make to their field. Since most of our content has been published for only a few months we've not yet had much feedback from users on the published lectures other than from usage statistics.

Usage has been growing substantially. For some lectures, we are approaching over 1000 downloads within a few months after publication which is much higher than one would see for a journal article.
Q3. What have been some of the challenges so far, for example, keeping the lectures short, getting good metadata, recruiting authors?

Well, on the content side, our greatest challenge is getting authors to finish. We and our editors have been very picky about choosing authors and all of our lectures are written by invitation. The positive result is that we have been able to recruit some of the most prominent researchers as authors. The negative result is that these are busy people with the most demands on their time. We act as advocates for their future audience and give them every encouragement (translation: nag, plead, beg) to get the lecture to the top of their stack. Then, once they finish a first draft, the manuscript is reviewed by their peers. Our task is then to get them to put in the additional time to revise.

On the library side, I guess our biggest challenge, which is now beginning to diminish, has been gaining credibility. Librarians haven't seen too many new companies start in the last 10 years and they haven't seen many new original electronic content products, most have been digitization of existing print works or aggregations of the same. Also, they have only seen a few undertakings that were really serious about high quality content. Although Joel and I are well known in engineering and computer science, as professional book publishers we weren't known by many librarians. So, in the beginning, we needed to overcome some skepticism. We had strong early support from a group of visionary libraries and librarians who are actively involved in the engineering library community to whom we owe a great deal.

Now that Synthesis has been licensed by many if not most of the top engineering schools and is beginning to be licensed more broadly this is less of an issue for us, at least in North America.
Q4. What's the future of print books in the computing field?

I think that this is very much dependent on what is available in terms of reading devices, electronic paper and personal printers. The main current advantages of econtent are in distribution, availability, search, linking and multimedia features. However, it seems that many people prefer reading in print, especially longer documents such as books. Once we have higher resolution screens, ergonomically enjoyable portable reading devices or even personal printers that can economically print and bind at the desktop, the preference for buying print books should decline. It's likely that this will happen first in engineering and computer science.
Q5. Who do you see as your main competition at this point? Other ebook providers or free stuff on the web? Wikipedia?

There are three potential fronts for competition for Synthesis: for authors, for library funds and for interest from readers. We don't feel much competition from other publishers for authors and content. Most of our authors are interested in a Synthesis lecture because their topics are moving too quickly or are too narrow for books. Also, since we give our authors the right to reuse their lecture material later in writing a longer book for any publisher, they don't have to choose. Our biggest competition for authors is for their time. For library funds, our competition is increasingly going to be other ebook providers as publishers make more of their lists available. Our challenge will be to convince librarians that the content in Synthesis is unique and valuable and that it is not just another ebook collection comprising digitised traditional print books. In terms of attention from readers, most of our content is unique but they are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of content available. We will need to work hard at marketing, creating awareness and enabling discovery to compete against an increasing amount of noise. Although I am a big fan of Wikipedia, we don't see much competition from it at the advanced level of our content.
Q6. I had to get one Morgan Kaufmann question in -- in all the time you were at Morgan Kaufmann, what's the one thing you're most proud of? Do you have any regrets?

I am most proud of the community of authors and list of great books that we built. I think we were successful in creating a culture of collaboration and respect for authors that produced some great work. I think it's fair to say that several MK books made substantial contributions to computer science and that most faculty in such areas as computer architecture, databases, computer human interaction, graphics, networking and AI would agree.

My one regret is that we didn't keep MK independent. We merged the company with Academic Press to provide an exit strategy for our investors which was only fair to those who had made MK possible in the first place. Many of the original MK staff, especially in editorial, are still there and continuing a tradition of great publishing. It would be very interesting to be developing Synthesis in that context. On the other hand, if we hadn't merged with AP, Joel Claypool and I might not have developed the working relationship that led to the development of Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool. Ultimately, I think that Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool have the potential to make a much more significant and unique impact for our disciplines.
Q7. Finally, what's the best and worst things about your job these days?

The best thing is to be working closely with authors and librarians to do something so worthwhile. I've always worked closely with authors but it's been very rewarding to discover this new collaborative community of librarians. As a professional book publisher you don't have a community of (non reader) customers that is so engaged and knowledgable. For example, I am writing this from a UK library conference where I have spent pretty much every waking moment of the last three days in conversation with librarians, including on the disco floor until 2:30am this morning.

Frankly, there is not much that is bad. If I had to pick something, it would be the sense of feeling stretched too thin. In the traditional book world, most of the innovation is limited to content and everything else is pretty well established. With Synthesis we think about innovation in content, delivery, user experience, discovery, business models, digital archiving, and the list goes on.

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From the Archives: Interview with Eugene Wallingford of Knowing and Doing

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview, with Eugene Wallingford, is from July 9, 2008.

I'm hoping to get these out weekly, but we'll see. They're mostly cobbled together in odd moments then scheduled for a few days or weeks later.

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Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Eugene Wallingford, Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa and author of the blog Knowing and Doing. I've been following Knowing and Doing for most of the four years it's been running (Happy Blogiversary, Eugene!) and I've always been impressed by Eugene's insights into the world of computer science, especially from the educational viewpoint. Since it's been quite a while since I interviewed a CS faculty member, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see what Eugene thinks about some of the important issues in the field today. I think there's some food for thought in the interview for librarians supporting CS programs and students.

Thanks to Eugene for his thoughtful responses. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi, Eugene, please tell us about yourself, your career path and how you got to be the Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa.

Thanks, John, for asking me for an interview. I am honored to share a few thoughts with your readers.

From the time I was seven or eight, I wanted to be an architect. All of my career planning in school aimed that direction. Academically, I liked everything and so had a full load of math, science, literature, history, and social science.

I started college as an architecture major. While I liked it just fine, something was missing. Somehow, I was drawn toward computer science. I ended up double majoring in CS and accounting, but CS was my passion, especially artificial intelligence. I went on to grad school, specializing in knowledge-based systems. My dissertation focused on the interaction between memory and domain knowledge.

A little over three years ago, we were nearing the end of an interim department head's term. I'd never given much thought to being an administrator, but I saw many ways in which we could improve and thought for a moment that I might be the right person to help us get there. I am now ending my first 3-year term and have agreed to continue on for three more years. Looking back, I see some improvements but, frankly, had hoped to have accomplished more. This is a tough job. It lets me be a computer scientist in some ways but takes time away from doing all of the CS I love. I'm committed to helping us move forward for another term, and then we'll see.

Q1. Do you have a theory of blogging? What got you started blogging and what do you get out of it and what keeps you going? I'm sure all your faithful readers are hoping you can add comments to your blog at some point.

I don't think I have a theory of blogging. I first started because I had things I wanted to say. Every computer I had ever owned was littered with little essays, reviews, and conference notes that no one had ever seen. I'd been reading several blogs for several years and thought that starting a blog was a way to make some of my writing more permanent. If others found it worth reading, all the better.

My blog consists mostly of short pieces connected to my professional life as a computer scientist and faculty member. I make connections among things I read, write, see, and do. My one personal indulgence in writing is running, and I've written quite a bit about my experiences training for marathons. Some of my more interesting pieces in this category have made connections from training and running to software development.

Occasionally, I write something that is purely personal, or something that made me smile and laugh. I don't think anyone really wants to hear about what I eat for meals or who I am voting for in elections, so my blog has never veered in that direction. But readers get to know me as a professional person, and I do think that knowing something about the person on the fringes adds depth to how they read my other pieces.

Comments... Yes, I understand. When I first started blogging -- four years ago today (July 9)! -- I planned to add comments. The tool I use to blog is very simple and didn't make that easy. I've just never gotten around to it.

I read many blogs in which comments make a valuable contribution to the message. In others, they add little. There are many ways in which I would relish an ongoing conversation with readers. Adding comments is still on my wish list.

Q2. You blog a lot about teaching computer science. Do you have a teaching philosophy? How do you think teaching computer science differs from teaching other disciplines?

There was a thread recently on the SIGCSE mailing list about teaching philosophies. Many schools ask job applicants for a statement of teaching philosophy, and some folks think that's silly. How could new Ph.D.s have teaching philosophies when they have spent little or no time in a classroom?

I've been on the CS faculty for sixteen years now, and I can't say that I have a coherent, pat teaching philosophy even now. Were I to apply for a new job, I would have to do what those new Ph.D.s have to do: scour my mind for bits of truth that reflect how I teach and how I think about learning, and then mold them into an essay that captures something coherent about me on this day.

My blog exposes some of these bits of truth as I write about my experiences in the classroom. It will be a wonderful resource the next time I have to write a statement of philosophy.

Thinking back to all I've written in the last few years, I can see some themes. Learning is more important than teaching. Students learn when they do. Students learn when they want to do. What I can do as a teacher is to create an environment where students come into contact with cool and powerful ideas. I can organize ideas, skills, and tools so that students encounter them in a way that might spur their desire. Ask students to write programs and solve problems. Ask them to think about how and why. Ask them to go deep in an area so that they learn its richness and not its surface chemistry. Oh, and show as often as I can and in as many ways as I can how much I love computer science. Show what I learn.

That paragraph would get me started on a philosophy statement.

Computer science is an interesting mix of mathematics and programs. Most people don't realize that it is a creative discipline -- a discipline in which making things is paramount. In that sense, we can learn a lot from how writers and artists (and architects!) learn their craft.

Q3. Another of your favourite themes is how computing is infiltrating all the other sciences -- in other words we're getting to the point where it's computational everything. What got you interested in that trend and where do you see it going?

This is not as new as it might seem. Computer science has always been about applications: creating solutions to real problems in the world. The discipline goes through spurts in which it looks inward, but the focus always turns back out. When I was in college in the first half of the 1980s, there was a lot of talk about end-user programming, and even then that wasn't new. Alan Kay has been talking for forty years about computing as a new medium for expressing ideas, a medium for every person. Before that, pioneers such as Marvin Minsky said similar things.

What's happening now is a confluence of several developments. Computing power has continued to grow at a remarkable pace. Our ability to gather and store data has, too. We realize that there will probably never be enough "computer scientists" to solve all of these problems ourselves, and how could we anyway? Biologists know more biology than I ever will; likewise for economics and astronomy and geography and most other disciplines. We are reaching a point where the time is right to fulfill the vision of computing as medium for expressing and testing ideas, and that will require we help everyone use the medium effectively.

Q4. Enrollment has been an issue in the CS community for a while now. Are you happy with the current levels of enrollment? What do you think are some of the ways to get enough students of all kinds interested in CS and willing to consider it as a major? How can we improve the diversity of the students willing to give CS a shot?

We've started to see a small bounce in our enrollments, and I think this trend will continue for a while. I'm not sure that we will ever see the large growth we saw in the 1980s and 1990s, but that's okay -- as long as we recognize our need to broaden the base of people who can use computing in their own disciplines.

Figuring out how to get more students to major in CS or to learn how to use computing in their own disciplines is not easy. If I knew the answer, my school would have a lot more majors and students! There are a lot of things we can do: tell our story better; help more people to understand what computing is and what we do; introduce our ideas to more students earlier in school. One thing a lot of us have noticed over the years is that most people learn about CS as something "hard", a discipline that requires special wiring in the brain. While it's probably true that not everyone is suited to do academic research in CS, I think that everyone can learn to use computing as a medium for expressing ideas. If we can find good ways to introduce computing in that way across the population, the number of majors and the number of interested non-majors will take care of themselves.

Q5. Could you tell us a little about your research interests?

As I mentioned in my history earlier, I started in the area of artificial intelligence, a field in which computer scientists work with many others in an effort to make computers do ever more impressive tasks. Most of my work was in Knowledge-based systems, a sub-area that focused on how systems with deep knowledge of a class of problems can organize, access, and use the knowledge to solve those problems. In the mid-1990s, I began to move in the direction of intelligent tutoring systems, which are programs that help people to learn. This was probably a natural evolution for me, given my interest in how my students and I learn new areas of expertise.

In the late 1990s, I found myself drifting toward work in the area of software design and development, which led me more toward programming languages. Notions of design and language were central to my interest in AI, but I found the concreteness of supporting software developers attractive.

As a department head, I don't have much time for research. When I do have time, I work on how to provide support to programmers as they write, modify, and manipulate code. Of particular interest is how to support refactoring (changes to programs that preserve their intended behavior but modify their structure) in dynamic languages, which do not provide all of the cues we need to ensure that a modification preserves behavior.

Q6. Being a librarian, you know I have to ask what journals, conferences, etc., you find most helpful. I'm also curious about any search engines you might use, be they commercial ones like INSPEC, Web of Science, Scopus or "free" ones like CiteSeer, Google, or Google Scholar? Or anything I haven't even mentioned.

Google. That's the answer for so many things! It's my primary tool for search to find new articles. It links me to more focused technical tools like CiteSeer and the ACM Digital Library, as needed. But so many articles are now available directly on the web from their authors that the journals themselves become more like convenient packaging devices than essential units themselves. It's akin to the change in the music industry from the album to the single. Singles fell out of favor for a while, but the advent of iTunes and other music services have really changed how most people come into contact with their music today.

I don't read many journals cover to cover anymore. I do subscribe to the Communications of the ACM and am looking forward to its new format. I also follow the bulletins of several ACM special interest groups (programming languages, AI, and education).

Q7. Again, being a librarian, I'm also curious about any CS-related books you've read that you've found useful or inspiring, either recently or in your formative years.

A few years back, before I had a blog, I created a webpage for sharing books with colleagues and students:

http://www.cs.uni.edu/~wallingf/miscellaneous/recommended-reading.html

I haven't added to that list lately, but it lists most of the CS books I'd recommend yet today, including Abelson and Sussman's The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Peter Norvig's Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming, and the Gang of Four's Design Patterns. It also lists books that are not technically about CS but which might change how someone thinks about computing and software, such as Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn -- a marvelous book!

One glaring omission from this page are the works of Christopher Alexander, the inspiration for the idea of software patterns. Most everyone recommends The Timeless Way of Buiding and A Pattern Language, and I concur. But I also strongly recommend The Oregon Experiment, which describes Alexander's experience implementing his ideas on a college campus. This is a thin little volume that I found rewarding.

Most of my CS-specific reading lately has been on Ruby.

Q8. I find it interesting that computer science students still seem to be relatively high users of print books and I was wondering about your take on that phenomenon. Is it still the same or is it changing?

Philip Greenspun has described CS as pre-paradigmatic in Thomas Kuhn's sense, which means that books play an important role in how new ideas are shared and disseminated. Computing has always been rich in print books, from timeless works down to skills books with a shelf life limited by the rapid change in technology. I know many publishers are thinking about ways the market might shift into electronic versions, and more and more books are available on-line now, sometimes in their first run.

A lot of my students are reading books on-line more now than in print. A recent favorite is Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, available at http://poignantguide.net/ruby/. To my knowledge, this book is available only on the web and not in print. I'm curious to see how this trend develops. My guess is that individual authors will create most of the ideas that change how we read their works, which will cascade down to how we publish.

This comes back in to some ways to blogs, which seems like a good way to close the circle on this interview. One thing I love about my blog in comparison to the essays and comments I used to write in regular text files is the ability to link directly to other works. When I drop a short piece onto my blog, it often takes its place within a web of related writings and software pages. The connections among these works adds value to what I write by giving my readers a way to find and explore related work. That is so much more convenient than a list of references at the end, even if it is also a whole lot messier.

Thanks again for asking me to contrib

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Interview with Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ

Welcome to the most recent installment in my very occasional series of interviews with people in the publishing/science blogging/computing communities. The latest is with Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ. PeerJ is a new startup in the scientific publishing industry, using a rather unique business model whereby authors will be able to pay one fee and they get a lifetime of publishing their articles in PeerJ.

Please see my post with the PeerJ press release for more details.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Peter and Jason some pre-announcement questions about PeerJ and I've included their responses below. I asked all the questions except for the last one before I saw any of the press release or other information now on the PeerJ website. The press release and responses below were embargoed until today.

Here are the bios I received for Peter and Jason:

Peter Binfield, Ph.D. - Co-founder & Publisher

Pete has worked in the academic publishing world for almost 20 years. Since gaining a PhD in Optical Physics, he has held positions at Institute of Physics, Kluwer Academic, Springer, SAGE and most recently the Public Library of Science (PLoS). At PLoS he ran PLoS ONE, and developed it into the largest and most innovative journal in the world. He is a respected authority in the academic publishing and Open Access worlds and has made numerous presentations to industry and academia. He is currently a member of the International Advisory Committee of the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE) as well as being on the Advisory Committee of the MedicineX conferences.

He is passionate about academic publishing and believes that publishing needs to be in service to the academic community to best facilitate the rapid and broad dissemination of research findings.

Jason Hoyt, Ph.D. - Co-founder & CEO

Jason holds a PhD in Genetics from Stanford University where he worked under Michele Calos researching human gene therapy. He developed new methods for non-viral gene delivery into mouse hematopoietic cells using the phiC31 integrase.

Before founding PeerJ, he worked at Mendeley as Chief Scientist/VP of R&D and pioneered the data mining group that scaled Mendeley's growth to crowd source more than 150 million academic documents in just over two years. This firmly established Mendeley as a big data company. Also under his direction, services such as personal recommendations, search, real-time statistics, and the Mendeley API were developed. He has co-written and been awarded several major UK and European grants to investigate new data mining techniques and establish a pilot program with the University of Cambridge to integrate Mendeley with institutional repositories.

Jason strongly believes that research needs to be openly available if we are going to solve this century's biggest challenges.

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Q1. Is there a 100 year/perpetual access business plan? It would be nice to have a solid digital preservation plan. In other words, a sense of how deeply the issues around $99 sustainability have been explored.

We completely understand the need for a robust preservation plan and so of course we have one. We will be archiving all our content at PubMedCentral, as well as with CLOCKSS (we have already joined CLOCKSS). As soon as the Royal Dutch Library starts taking publishers again, we will also be archiving there. With these 3 industry standard archives in place we will meet or exceed the archiving levels of the majority of publishers.

As to the sustainability of the actual business -- I am afraid 100 years is a little beyond our planning horizon... What we can say is that given our knowledge of, and experience in, this industry we believe we have a business model which is as self sustaining as that of any other commercial publisher. Although clearly there is a start-up phase where systems and processes need to be built, once we are up and running we will have an ongoing business which can stand on its own under any reasonable expectations of how the future market might develop.

Q2. Do the fees have to be researcher-based? Is there any way institutions could play a role -- or perhaps have lifetime institutional licenses?

Fees are indeed individual based, however we have the facility for institutions (or research funders for example) to "bulk pay" for the individual memberships. We don’t anticipate a lifetime institutional license, but we do expect some institutions to be interested in "automatically" signing up their faculty, or perhaps every new Grad student who starts with them, for example. In addition, we have the facility for people (e.g. a PI) to buy the membership on behalf of someone else (e.g. a co-author).

Q3. What kind of ecosystem of other players do you see sprouting up around PeerJ?

The opportunities to re-use open access content are numerous, but so far they have barely been explored because there simply hasn’t been enough OA content to work on. However, it is also the case that many publishers haven’t done a very good job in helping that ecosystem evolve -- PeerJ will try to encourage these developments by using public APIs, open sourcing much of our content, and providing high quality metadata. We hope to see people take our content and data mine it for new discoveries; provide overlay functionality to semantically mark up articles on the fly; write apps that use our data; develop new discovery services based on our article metrics and so on.

Q4. For arXiv the fact that a good chunk of the articles end up published in journals or conferences ends up acting as a kind of post-publication peer review and you could almost see the journals acting as kind of an overlay on arxiv. Do you foresee creating some kind of “journal” overlay on peerj or there being an aftermarket for creating these overlays? (in PLoS lots of stuff ends up in their topical journals versus the stuff that ends up in PLoS ONE, for example...)

PeerJ will be a journal (and we will also have a PrePrint server -- PeerJ PrePrints), and it will publish a wide range of content in a manner similar to PLoS ONE -- therefore we expect to develop navigation and filtering tools to help users make sense of that content (for example, the paleontologists probably don’t want to see the articles about oncology). It is an open question whether these new functionalities might evolve to eventually look or feel like a separate "journal" to a user.

However, it is also worth mentioning that because of our open access license, anyone will be able to build their own "overlay" on top of our content (and that of other OA publishers), and provide any kind of other services, for example further layers of discovery or of peer review. These are exciting possibilities which we will definitely encourage.

Q5. The Scholarly Kitchen has already likened your approach to that of Walmart conjuring up images of abandoned downtown commercial districts. Or even as a kind of predatory OA journal, a ponzi scheme almost. How do you respond to this type of criticism?

As a general rule, the Scholarly Kitchen is not a great fan of Open Access publishers, and in addition they were commenting before any real information was yet available. Now that we have formally launched, we believe our actions will speak for themselves, and we expect people to form their own opinions based on the facts of our business model.

With that said, your question does beg some specific responses:

One of the complaints in the first post you reference was that if you remove a lot of the important functions from a company you have nothing worthwhile left. That post misses the point -- if you look at a subscription publisher, then they maintain a lot of "important" functions simply because those functions are essential to their specific business model. If you remove the business model (i.e. selling copyright-protected subscriptions, with a hardcopy component, to university libraries) then you remove the need for all sorts of "essential" functions such as warehousing, distribution, a legal dept, a sales force, a billing and collections group etc etc. This is actually what open access publishers such as PeerJ are doing -- we have a new type of publication model which allows us to knowingly strip out what is extraneous to the process of publication, allowing us to pass those savings back to the customers (the authors). If PeerJ can provide a high quality, professional, publishing service that authors value (which we will) at a price that authors feel is fair, then that is what counts, not whether we are providing irrelevant services that add no value in order to maintain an outdated publication model.

The implicit complaint in that post was that making a service cheaper was in some way a bad thing. It is only bad if the ultimate service which is delivered is not valued by the customers or is regarded as substandard (in which case you will quickly lose customers). In our mind, we would like to drive the cost for an author as low as possible, while still providing the highest possible standards of professional publication, in order to deliver a service which is genuinely valued. Unlike some publishers, we are willing to be judged by the marketplace.

As to being predatory -- we can absolutely assure you that this is not the case. Pete used to run PLoS ONE and Jason was the head of R&D at Mendeley. We both know how to run "respectable" businesses, and we both have reputations that we would like to maintain! PeerJ is in the service of the global academic community (not the other way round), and we believe that they will see the value in what we are providing.

Q6. I see from the press release that you will be concentrating primarily on articles in the biological and medical sciences. Any plans on moving beyond articles into data or other types of research objects? As well, any plans to expand into other disciplinary areas?

PeerJ is a journal and as such we expect it to publish "regular" journal articles (albeit with considerable additional functionality, such as multimedia etc). However, PeerJ PrePrints is a preprint server, and so it is not constrained in the same way. Although we expect authors to mostly submit draft articles into PeerJ PrePrints we do expect it to become a somewhat "experimental" publication venue where people can submit things which don’t necessarily look and feel like a "normal" article. Only time will tell what the future publication needs of the academic community are going to be, but we hope and expect that PeerJ will be able to accommodate them.

As to other disciplines, we need to concentrate on one thing at a time of course. Therefore, there are no plans to move outside of Biological and Medical sciences at the moment.

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Interview with Michael Nielsen, author of Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science

Welcome to the latest installment in my very occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Michael Nielsen, author of the recently published Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science and prolific speaker on the Open Science lecture circuit. A recent example of his public speaking is his TEDxWaterloo talk on Open Science.

You can follow his blog here and read his recent Wall Street Journal article, The New Einsteins Will Be Scientists Who Share.

I'd like to thank Michael for his provocative and insightful responses. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi Michael, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you ended up writing and speaking about open science?

My original training is as a theoretical physicist --- I worked on quantum computing and related topics full time for about 13 years, and part time for a few years prior to that.

But at the same time as I was working on quantum computing, I was also following closely all the amazing things happening online -- things like the development of Google, Wikipedia, open source software, and so on. And as I watched it came to seem to me that these tools have begun (though far from concluded!) a revolution in the way we construct knowledge.

For a long time I expected that tools like this would also revolutionize how science is done. And we've certainly seen some exciting developments along those lines. But overall scientists have been very conservative in how they've adopted new online tools, in large part because of cultural barriers in science, barriers that mean scientists don't get a whole lot of credit for sharing knowledge in new ways.

I found this conservatism frustrating, and wanted to work to help change the culture of science. So in 2007 I decided to leave my tenured position as an academic to work full time on open science.

Q1. Your new book is Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. Briefly, what is it about and what is the intended audience?

It's about the potential of the network to transform the way scientific discoveries are made. I think the day-to-day process of science will dramatically shift over the next few decades, speeding up the rate at which discoveries are made, and making possible whole new ways of attacking problems. But that will only happen if the culture of science becomes much more open -- to reach its potential networked science must also be open science. And so the book is also a manifesto for open science.

Q2. A significant percentage of the people doing science out there are academics. It's easy to see how open science integrates into the research part of their jobs but how about into their teaching and service requirements?

There are many things academics can do to integrate open science into teaching and service. Here's just a few ideas:

  1. Contribute to projects like Wikipedia and Citizendium, perhaps by giving students projects to improve articles in particular areas.
  2. Academics can potentially combine research, teaching and outreach through projects such as Zooniverse, which is becoming a general purpose platform for connecting scientists to the general public, so the public can make real contributions to scientific research projects. Zooniverse are probably best known for Galaxy Zoo, a very successful project to crowdsource galaxy classifications, but they also run many other citizen science projects.
  3. Academics can upload some of their teaching materials online, where they can be used by others. Aside from the intrinsic worthiness of doing this, it can certainly help improve teaching. YouTube, for example, gives detailed analytics -- you actually get a graph showing how much attention people pay to different parts of your video. From painful personal experience I can say that sometimes that graph plummets, as people leave your video in droves. Usually that's a great diagnostic that you're messing something up in your explanation, and need to improve.

Once you start looking into these and other similar possibilities, you realize that there are a multitude of ways to incorporate open science into the classroom and into service. Many of these ways are free or inexpensive, with the main limit being imagination.

Q3. It seems to me that the key to changing the way science is done is changing the incentive structures for working scientists. What could a new incentive structure look like that would encourage more openness? Are there some practical steps that can move things forward?

This is a question that an entire book could easily be written about. With that said, here's a few things that can be done:

  1. Individual scientists can make a point of citing non-traditional research contributions, like open data sets, code, and videos. Eventually we'll see journals that make it possible to publish data, code and video as first-class research objects in their own right, with the same status as conventional paper publication. Some efforts in this direction include GigaScience, Open Research Computation and the Journal of Visualised Experiments. Citations to those contributions will then show up in conventional measures of academic productivity --- things like citation count --- and so give people an incentive to contribute in new ways.
  2. People can build tools to measure the impact of non-traditional research contributions. The SPIRES service helped drive the adoption of preprint culture in physics, by providing a way of measuring the impact of preprints. There's no reason similar services shouldn't be set up for contributions to blogs, wikis, question and answer sites like MathOverflow, and so on. Indeed, MathOverflow already has a tool like this built in --- a measure of reputation for users. And there's other ideas exploring this space, like altmetrics and total impact. Do these replace conventional measures, like total number of citations? No, of course not. But people are often surprisingly aware of such reputation measures, and they will gradually enter the mainstream, show up on people's CVs, and so on.
  3. People who work at grant agencies or in senior positions in academia can help legitimize new forms of contribution. Simply inviting scientists to submit non-traditional evidence of impact would be a good start.

These are all small but significant steps, and it's through such steps that a change to a more open scientific culture will gradually come about.

Q4. Or perhaps the key is to get them young: how do we need to change the training and mentoring of scientists get to encourage them to be more open?

I don't think there's anything terribly complicated required here. Just getting students involved in open science projects is a big help. People like Steve Koch have mentored students like Andy Maloney, who've done much of their work in the open. Those students then go off and carry those techniques elsewhere, slowly changing the overall culture of science.

Q5. Perhaps the classic example you use in your talks is the Polymath project -- an experiment in massively collaborative mathematics. Do you see a future for this type of project and do you think the model is generalizable beyond mathematics?

Yes, I see a big future for this kind of project, although I think that Polymath and similar projects will morph into other forms. The original Polymath Project was done using off-the-shelf tools -- WordPress and Mediawiki -- that definitely aren't designed for massively collaborative mathematics. And so I think that we can develop much better tools, and also better social norms, that will make it possible to go much, much further.

To some extent this is already happening with the question and answer site Mathoverflow, which has attracted a strong and growing community of mathematicians. It's not uncommon to see a challenging technical question posted to Mathoverflow and then answered within minutes or hours.

As to whether this model is generalizable beyond mathematics, it certainly is, although with some qualifications. It depends on where the bottlenecks are in doing research. If the major bottlenecks are (say) construction of an experimental device, or taking samples, then obviously the net only helps a little. But if the bottlenecks are data analysis, or something more conceptual -- and I don't just mean theory, the bottlenecks in doing experiments are often conceptual -- then there is the potential for a networked approach to really help. What gets me excited is the fact that we're still in the very early days of this; there's a lot of room for people with imagination to go much, much further.

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