Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Science is a Product in the Wrong Marketplace

Instead of mindlessly watching a movie tonight, I browsed through Google Tech Talks and stumbled upon a spectacularly argued, wonderfully cadenced, and orchestrated Sept 2011 presentation by Kristen Marhaver entitled, "Organizing the world's information by date and author is making Mother Earth Sick".

Her thesis is that science is a product, not a news stream. And, because science is communicated in a self-serving, pay-wall-laden marketplace, its products to outsiders (those who stand to benefit from this knowledge) are paradoxically valueless. Kristen argues that the first steps toward cracking into this marketplace could be to expose the inherently social dimension of science by using modern day social gadgetry. Google+, Twitter and star ratings could reside around the periphery of online PDF reprint viewers. Unfortunately Kristen, this is still the wrong marketplace.

The one place where the social dimension of science is abundantly obvious is the largely unchallenged scientific conference. There are ways for this energetic, youthful, exploratory dialogue to spill out onto the distant screens of those who could benefit. YouTube, Twitter, Google+ could all be used with religion at conferences because for the most part, papers delivered are free from the publisher's grasp. Google Tech Talks and TED talks are spectacularly popular for very good reason. The medium is accessible. Plus, there is ample opportunity to make conferences more accessible and engaging to registrants themselves. How many times have you heard someone deliver a paper who feels the need to introduce his/her co-authors who could not be present or to shamelessly advertise the upcoming paper/poster presentations of their graduate students? The moment someone walks up to the podium, I want all that pushed onto my iPad along with links to their reprints. I'd rather they just get on with it. If their presentation were recorded and later put on YouTube, I'd want the same experience. Sure, links to their reprints would likely throw me up against a brick pay-wall, but I'd already know and appreciate the context.

To take this even further, why not really expose the scientific conference by advertising the downtime? On how many occasions have you gone to a conference, only to share a beer or two in the evening(s) WITH THE COLLEAGUES YOU ALREADY WORK WITH!? Instead, I want a post-conference un-drink. That is, I'd like to advertise my desire to have a drink by posting what I'd like to talk about and then blast the venue into the Twittersphere for members of the public to join me if they felt so inclined. If it's a bust, I'll swallow my pride and go join another one...and I'll bring copies of my reprints.