Out of the pool and into the ocean

“…if scientists could communicate more in their own voices-in a familiar tone, with a less specialized vocabulary-would a wide range of people understand them better?  Would their work be better understood by the general public, policy-makers, funders, and, even in some cases, other scientists?” -Alan Alda

I love science.

I have spent many years teaching science and I feel like I have a pretty broad understanding of most scientific concepts.

However, last week I attended a 3 day meeting with a variety of respected researchers who are studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, and I was struck by how little of the presentations and panel discussions I was able to absorb, especially when it came to the more abstract nature of their work.  If I, a person with a marked interest and a science background, was struggling for comprehension, what must it be like for the general public?

Now of course the audience at this meeting was made up of people who were in the know and didn’t need their science “dumbed down” if you will, but the language seldom changes when efforts are made to communicate with those outside the scientific sphere.  Science communication and outreach are fast becoming important facets of research and are starting to become tied to funding in big ways.  As the looming sequester has the potential to shrink federal support for research and development (R&D) by US$57.5 billion over the next five years (Nature), it is imperative that scientists work to build a case for the relevance of their work and that means targeting those who do not necessarily speak the same language that they do, namely taxpayers and policymakers!

Where do information professionals come into play in all this? Well, our work is intricately tied together with the researchers and academics that we serve.  Their cause is our cause and our background in outreach, communication, and research can be a valuable tool in making scientific research more accessible and relatable.

Science Communication Table

Source: Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, from the October 2011 issue of Physics Today, page 48:

Some Helpful Resources

-A self-directed course on scientific communication from Nature

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topic/scientific-communication-14121566

-Similar resource from the American Association for the Advancement of Science

http://communicatingscience.aaas.org/

The Journal of Science Communication

http://scx.sagepub.com/

-Presentations from the National Academy of Sciences Colloquium “The Science of Science Communication”

http://www.nasonline.org/programs/sackler-colloquia/completed_colloquia/agenda-science-communication.html

-Science communication competitions!

http://famelab.org/

National Science Communication Institute

http://nationalscience.org/

 

 

This is a great presentation on social media for scientists.

http://socialnetworkingforscientists.wikispaces.com/

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If taxpayers paid for it, they own it

The push for open access in research got a big boost on Friday with the release of a policy memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, which has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.  Whew that was a long sentence!  This is a precursor to the hopefully eventual ratification of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act that was introduced both in the house and the senate on February 14th, 2013.  Check out this Wiki from the Harvard Open Access Project for more information on that and to track the progress of FASTR in congress.

Those of us in the know on this issue, which let’s face it should be all of us in academia, have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time.  And it’s thanks to the continued activism, advocacy, and articulate passion of so many in the academic community that we are at this point today.  If you have a moment, please read this joint letter from ARL, ALA, Creative Commons, PLOS, and many others offering support and a simple, but resonating rationale for the open access of scientific research.

http://www.arl.org/sparc/bm~doc/oawg_thanks_fastr_final-copy.pdf

Let’s Face It, No One Can Read Everything

I read.  A lot.  Still I’m constantly amazed at how little of the massive amounts of information available to me I’m actually able to absorb.  It is no surprise that this is an affliction shared by the research community.  Scientific research is available for public consumption in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just a few short years ago and the sheer volume can be overwhelming.

“In growing numbers, scholars are integrating social media tools like blogs, Twitter, and Mendeley into their professional communications. The online, public nature of these tools exposes and reifies scholarly processes once hidden and ephemeral. Metrics based on this activities could inform broader, faster measures of impact, complementing traditional citation metrics.”

http://arxiv.org/html/1203.4745v1

These alternative metrics, or altmetrics as they are commonly referred to, are increasingly gaining credence as a way to track the sphere of influence of social media in the scientific community.  It also serves to help sift the wheat from the chaff so to speak.  What is truly worth your time to read?  What are other like minded folks in your field reading?  What is the…

nmat3485-f1

The new model is starting to look like this.

four-ways-to-measure-impact-copy

Publication in a peer-review journal is not the only way to effectively measure the impact of research, especially now with the push for open access and the quickly becoming outdated model of traditional publication.

Check out IU E-Science librarian Stacy Konkiel’ s great talk on the potential uses of alt-metrics in libraries.

Click through these slides from Heather’s Piwowar’s talk on altmetrics from ALA mid-winter.

And finally some recommended reading just in case you have lots of time on your hands…

-Good intro to ways in which altmetrics are being used and their potential impact

https://blogs.aalto.fi/suoritin/2013/01/22/digging-into-altmetrics/

-Feel like you need a dissenting viewpoint?  Check out this editorial from Nature

http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/v12/n2/pdf/nmat3566.pdf

Great article on using social media to explore scholarly impact, by the founders of  Impact Story

http://arxiv.org/html/1203.4745v1

-Tools from PLOS to measure research impact

http://article-level-metrics.plos.org/

-Bibliography of articles on altmetrics from PLOS

http://blogs.plos.org/everyone/2012/11/01/announcing-the-altmetrics-collection/

-Article discussing the new guidelines for grant applications for NSF which asks a principal investigator to list his or her research “products” rather than “publications” in the biographical sketch section.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v493/n7431/full/493159a.html#/author-information

-Quick blog post on altmetrics as a discovery tool

http://inundata.org/2013/01/23/altmetrics-as-a-discovery-tool/

Peace, Love, and Big Data

In my mind there is no question that big data is the buzzword of 2012.  Everyone from CEO’s to tech geeks are batting the term around like it’s the answer to all of the World’s problems.  A few brave naysayers have said, “Big Data? Big deal…”, but for the most part there is a sense of excitement over what is possible with all of the terabytes of data that are collected daily.  Though much of the energy is business and profit driven, there are also many data scientists who are passionate about using big data for the greater good.  One such start-up, DataKind, is endeavoring to match the skills of data scientists with non-profits who could benefit from their expertise with big data.  To date they have sponsored eight Data Dives in various parts of the country where they match up non-profit social organizations with volunteer data scientists who spend a weekend tackling their data challenges.

DataKind

One such event generated this map of storm surge risk in NYC.  As this was created in September it proved to be prophetic in determining the outcome of Hurricane Sandy the following month!

1358275246721-uploadscreenshot-dot-com

NYC Data Drive

 

DataKind founder Nate Porway, who was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2012, believes that this is a match that has been waiting to happen, “We’re connecting nonprofits, NGOs, and other data-rich social change organizations with data scientists willing to donate their time and knowledge to solve social, environmental, and community problems.  Data is like a bucket of crude oil. Potentially great, but only if someone knows how to refine it (data scientists) and someone else has vehicles that will run on it (the social sector).”

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/jake-porway/

 

 

A recent white paper from the World Economic Forum highlights the ways in which big data can have a big impact (I’m learning that people love to find other words to attach big to when they are writing about big data!) on international and social development.

 

This is all well and good but as as blogger Zach Gemignani wrote recently, “All the work of collecting, combining, and modeling data is wasted if not enough attention is paid to how the data is shared. The data needs to be transformed into bite-sized (pre-chewed, even) stories that can easily stick in the brains of your audience.”

http://www.juiceanalytics.com/writing/big-data-intimate-stories-big-impact/

In other words the excitement over big data’s potential for change needs to be combined with practical and usable applications.  Organizations like DataKind, which has started to inspire spin-offs on college campuses across the country, can be instrumental in helping this ideal to become reality.

Some Related Reading!

5 Things That Will Change the Way Nonprofits Work in 2013

Big Data, Big Hype: Big Deal

Links to other great Forbes articles as well!

The Age of Big Data

 

Humanizing Big Data

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“We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/04/rick-smolan-book_n_2237921.html

This quote, from Associated Press Editor-At-Large Ted Anthony, could be about librarians or even a treatise on human nature in general.  Instead it is used to describe an ambitious multifaceted project from prolific photographer Rick Smolan, who is best known for his work on the “Day in the Life” series of photo collections.  The Human Face of Big Data, which was released on December 4th and will soon be followed by a documentary, captures in photos and short articles the essence of big data real-world and personal applications.

In the book, big data is defined as the real time collection, analyses, and visualization of vast amounts of the information.  “In the hands of data scientists this raw information is fueling a revolution which many people believe may have as big an impact on humanity going forward as the Internet has over the past two decades. Its enable us to sense, measure, and understand aspects of our existence in ways never before possible.”  Amazon.   The following interview with the author provides some great background information.

In addition to the book, a free mobile app has been launched, “to help you learn about yourself, how you compare to others, and what your phone can tell you about your life.  Compare answers about yourself, your family, trust, sleep, sex, dating, and dreams with millions of others around the world.  Find your Data Doppelganger. Map your daily footprint, share what brings you luck, and get a glimpse into the one thing people want to experience during their lifetime.”http://humanfaceofbigdata.com/about/

In less than two months, more than 3 million share and compare questions have been answered, in more than 100 countries.  Through the app some interesting data insights have been extrapolated.  Check them out!

http://thehumanfaceofbigdata.com/datainsights/

This is a cool project and I look forward to watching the documentary when it comes out.  In addition, the results of a worldwide, user submitted video contest will be coming out shortly which will undoubtedly provide us with some awesome snapshots of the “Human Face of Big Data”.

Links

http://humanfaceofbigdata.com/

Just as a side note this article on, “5 Trends That Will Shape Digital Services In 2013” was pretty interesting and relevant!

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671418/5-trends-that-will-shape-digital-services-in-2013#1

Happy Holidays Citizen Scientists!

cedar_waxwing_georgi_baird_cropped_1

Everyone knows that birders, or nerders as I like to call them, are a dedicated bunch, willing to spend hours in one spot waiting for a sighting of an elusive species.  For those of us with self-diagnosed ADD, that seems like a true test of fortitude!  Birders play in an important role in the scientific community and each year act as citizen scientists, collecting invaluable data that helps to further research and fuel conservation efforts.  These efforts are mobilized each year during the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

CBC Santa

The 113th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place Dec 14, 2012 to January 5, 2013.  The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends.  Data from the over 2,000 circles are entered after the count and become available to query here.

112th chirstmas bird count

The first year,in 1900, 27 birders participated, counting in 25 North American locations.  Last year, more than 63,000 volunteers in more than 2,200 locations took part.  Counts were held in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

1936 chirstmas count

The original counters tallied about 90 species. Last year volunteers recorded nearly 2,300 species among more than 60 million birds.

Audubon’s chief scientist Gary Langham points out that the counts’ purpose goes beyond tallying birds.

“Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior and the EPA,” he said.

christmas_bird_count

From all accounts it’s also a lot of fun!  Find a circle near you…