The future of science and publishing: a scientist tells us her view

This week I decided to try something a little different. For the past few weeks in class we have been looking at different institutions and the role the media and technologies within these institutions. This week it was all about science. Usually I try and summarize what I have discovered online about these topics, but just cause someone wrote a blog about it or it was printed in a newspaper does not mean that it is true. So I decided to do some research on what people believe new media technology is having within the science industry. Is what they are saying true? Lets ask a scientist!!

In an article written by Elizabeth Pisani called “The Generosity of
New Media – Science, Technology and Innovation” (2011) printed in the
Guardian UK she stated that making data available online so that other
scientists can then read it and use it straight away will allow for
“cheaper more efficient research which will mean more and faster
progress” (Pisani 2011) do you agree with this?

Yes in an ideal world I would. However as stated in the article
“…published papers are virtually the only measure of success in my
job, that’s like giving away my future” (Pisani 2011). To do research scientist need
money to support themselves and pay for the research. This money comes
from fellowships and grants provided by funding bodies such as the
NHMRC and ARC (Australia). A major factor influencing whether we
obtain funding is our publication record. This is the number and
quality of peer reviewed journal articles we have published. If we
make data available before it is published in a journal we can 1. No
longer published it in journal because it is not novel data anymore
and also other scientist will obtain access which will mean they can
use this for there own reference and publications. I think that once
an article is published it is a good idea to make the data associated
with this readily available however for the above reasons a scientist
can not be asked to make unpublished data (not in a journal)
available. Unless the funding system changes I can see not this
changing.

She (Pisani 2011) also stated that making data available in this way may lead to ownerships issues and people may not publish there mistakes, what are
your thoughts on this?

I definitely agree this may lead to ownerships issues. I do not think
mistakes should be published because mistakes can lead to false data.
Also to get data published currently it needs to be peer reviewed and
this is a very long and rigorous process, your data is scrutinized. I
think this is a good thing in a way because it means that published
data is likely to be correct. If making data available that may not be
publication quality (e.g. Sample size too small, poor quality images,
poor statistics) it might lead to misleading results being publicized
and then other scientists may waste their time trying to repeat these
results or expand on them.

There is however a difference between mistakes and negative or null
results. There are a number of studies which remain unpublished
because of this, for examples a mouse with a gene function removed
which has not phenotype (no obvious biological effect) and having this
information available will prevent other labs from trying to do the
same thing.

It is believed that with print media lapsing scientific papers may be
published in different ways, have you noticed any change in how
research or papers are being published? Do you agree with the
statement that “the internet is poised to transform science publishing
and science itself?” (Wilbanks, 2011, seed)

Some journals are now offering online only editions. Other information
that cannot be printed because of length of the article or type of
data (e.g. Videos) can now be accessed on the Internet as supplementary
figures. Also journal articles are much easier to access because of
the Internet and are often available ahead of print. However I do not
believe that the Internet will change science publishing and science
itself more than this.

Have you ever been involved in an instance where you have needed to
communicate with the general public and you found this difficult? What
happened? Why was it difficult?

Yes and it is difficult. I have had 4 years of University study to
obtain the level of scientific knowledge that I currently have and in
addition I read journal articles everyday to expand my knowledge.  It
is really difficult to try and explain something that I know all the
scientific details about in layman’s terms. Also the general public
also has this perception of scientists- e.g. ohh… you must be really
smart I can not possibly understand what you are doing and then don’t
even try. Also I find that the media sometimes hinders our ability to
communicate with the general public. For example, I hear on the news
every other day that a new cancer cure has been discovered,
unfortunately cancer and finding a cure is not that simple and I don’t
think it helps making people believe it is. However it is great to
make our discoveries available to the general public, however the
media is often misleading.

Many different institutions are now using technologies like wiki’s
(wikipedia for example) where many people are the author of a
particular work. Can you see this form being used within the science
institution?

No, never. I was taught during my undergraduate degree not to use
resources like Wikipedia. Anybody can write articles for these
technologies and the information provided is not peer reviewed and can
therefore be misleading or incorrect. These resources are an
unreliable source of information. There are much better technologies
out there such as databases like, The National Center for
Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

How often do peers review your work? Are the only your close peers or
do you find that the internet allows you to have peer-to-peer
collaboration with people from all over the world?

Peers review our work all the time. Any article published in a journal
has to be peer reviewed and this is generally a person that is
knowledgeable in your field but not a close peer and they are often
international. The Internet does help a lot, e-mail is much quicker
than post.

Most of the authors that write about the changes technology has caused
in the publishing of science come from overseas, in particular America
and the United Kingdom. Is the way science is being published changed
in Australia or is this just a theory that applies overseas (from what
you have observed)?

I do not think technology has caused many changes in publishing of
science overseas other than what I have mentioned. They need to get
their work published in a peer review journals just like us in
Australia and need these publications in order to get funding.

There is so much pressure on scientists to publish in peer-reviewed
journals. There is a saying I hear often “publish or perish”.  I do
agree that making data available online will lead to more efficient
research and faster progress. However with this pressure to publish
you cannot expect scientists to make “unpublished” data readily
available.  Unless the funding system changes technology is not going
to change science publishing more than it has already.

I would just like to point out that this is one scientists  point of view so it will not reflect the whole industry.

Interested in what I am talking about see these following sites and readings and tune in next week:

Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) ‘Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds’, The Guardian, January 11, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing>

Wilbanks, John (2011) ‘On Science Publishing’, Seed, <http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_science_publishing>

Seed (20110 ‘On Science Transfer’, Seed <http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/on_science_transfer>

Kelly, Kevin (2010 ‘Evolving the Scientific Method: Technology is changing the way we conduct science’, The Scientist <http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57831/>

Fish, Greg (2009) ‘why your dna is nothing like a database’, Weird Things <http://worldofweirdthings.com/2009/10/21/why-your-dna-is-nothing-like-a-database/>

Sample, Ian (2010) ‘Craig Venter Creates Synthetic Life Form’, The Guardian May 2, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form>

Edwards, Paul N. (2010) ‘Introduction’ in A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: xiii-xvii (note that you can download chapter one at <http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=12080>

The Deltoid blog is quite wonderfully precise on the media and climate change: <http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/>. Read a few entries, and see how the scientists deal with sceptics and trolls (and more important, note how the blog itself positions itself between science, mainstream media, and think tanks and others promoting climate denial)

<http://www.realclimate.org/>

Schmidt, Gavin (2011) ‘From Blog to Science’, RealClimate <http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/>

<http://www.skepticalscience.com/>

<http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SourceWatch> (check out some of the institutions and sources here … find out who they are


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