Last month we saw another edition of the global extravaganza that is Social Media Week. This time around there were over 1000 events and 25,000 attendees in 8 cities around the globe. The theme for this year was “Open & Connected” which is pretty much a perfect fit for the Mendeley philosophy. So we thought it would be great to host an event in the London SMW Hub about how technology is changing the way we conduct and fund research, how researchers interact, discover content and share their findings, as well as how the non-academic public can get involved and make a real different through citizen science initiatives.
Mendeley Co-founder and President Jan Reichelt kicked off the series of lightning presentations by explaining how Mendeley can help researchers organise their papers, but also how it went far beyond that. “Research is an inherently social activity, and Mendeley is an environment starting with productivity going over into collaboration, and that also crucially captures the social context going on around that research.”
Rachel Greene from JoVE challenged researchers to “stop reading and start watching,” explaining how the majority of the time scientists failed to accurately replicate the findings of key studies. She believes that technologies such as the one used in their peer-reviewed Journal of Visualized Experiments are much more suited for that purpose than traditional print, and can therefore dramatically increase reproducibility and the pace of scientific discovery.
“In the past everything was recorded on paper, but current science is very digital,” says IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg from Elsevier’s Article of the Future project, which aims to improve scientific communication in all its rich facets. “All the records are digital, all the capturing of scientific data is digital, and the communication of that information of course is also digital. However the traditional publishers have not yet adapted to that, what they usually do is flatten the multidimensional, rich research that an author has created into a two-dimensional paper of text and images.” He gave insight into some tantalizing possibilities, including the ability to run variations of some experiments – in computer science for example – within the parameters of the article itself, making it a living, evolving piece of collaborative research.
Nicolai Humphreys from The Lancet told of how the meaning of the journal’s name came from the fact that “A lancet can be an arched window to let light in and can also be a sharp surgical instrument to cut out the dross” and upon founding the journal in 1823 Thomas Wakley stated his intention that the publication should serve both those functions. Fast-forward nearly 200 years and Nicolai is part of the team that is using technology to cut out the dross and make academic publishing more dynamic and cutting edge.
Emma Cooper described the journey that took their digital amusements company Team Cooper to developing a Facebook game in conjunction with The Sainsbury Laboratory to help harness the brainpower of citizen scientists to tackle Ash Dieback disease. Quoting Dr Dan MacLean, who approached them about building the game with their data, “humans are smart and humorous, and we love games.” The key to the success of Fraxinus is the human ability to recognise patterns, and this proved really addictive with players (over 38,000 in the first month), who spend 20 minutes on average playing the game, where the average tends to be around 5-10 minutes.
That is what Robert Simpson from citizen science web portal Zooniverse calls “cognitive surplus,” which describes the vast amount of time that we collectively spend on activities such as watching TV. “The human race spends 16 years every hour playing Angry Birds every hour. There’s a lot of brainpower out there and what we try to do is take that brainpower and make it more useful to researchers.” The team at Zooniverse works with researchers to design sites that take their data and presents it into a format that will let the crowd help them to achieve their objectives. In the case of Snapshot Serengeti, for example, this meant classifying the millions of pictures taken over 2 years by camera traps in Tanzania to provide new insight into wildlife dynamics.
“These days with modern technology Citizen Science is becoming a fresh new hot subject in science,” says Margaret Gold of Citizen Cyberlab, which is leveraging the web, mobile phones and other tools and platforms to enable crowd-sourced scientific research. “We give people across the globe an interactive means to either help with the collection of data or the processing of data, pattern recognition and so forth, and all this makes a very genuine contribution towards science.”
Dr Rayna Stamboliyska, a Research Fellow and Digital Content Coordinator at the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, believes that technology can be used to bring research into primary schools, and that “we can change the world many kids at a time.” In these programs, PhD fellows work with school children to develop research projects, leveraging and incorporating various technologies and social media. “This not only engages them in the STEM curricula at a young age, but it’s a really gender neutral policy, so we’re addressing the problem of having so few women in science.”
But ground-breaking research often comes across the stumbling block that is lack of funding, and this is where Liz Wald from Indiegogo believes that crowdfunding can help scientists. “it’s really about getting rid of gatekeepers, knocking down barriers and taking ideas right to the crowd,” she said as she went through a few of the projects that were crowdfunded through Indiegogo, such as Kite Patch (a patch that lets people avoid mosquito bites) and uBiome (where you sent off swabs of your bacteria to them so that they could let you know more about yourself and also help the wider project to sequence the Microbiome). The message was that people will not only fund cool and useful gadgets, but all forms of science as long as you tell a good story.
If you missed it on the day don’t worry, all the presentations are on the Mendeley YouTube Channel, so you can watch them any time and let us know what you think! There are also some cool pictures of the day available on our Flickr page, we had a great time and thanks again to all our speakers and community!