Avoiding Research Pitfalls: Kristen Marhaver Talks@Mendeley


Kristen 1

Last week we welcomed Dr Kristen Marhaver to Talks@Mendeley. She travelled all the way from the Carmabi Research Institute in Curacao – one of the oldest research centres in the Caribbean where she studies coral reefs – to discuss how researchers can communicate their work more effectively, and what pitfalls they are likely to encounter along the way.

She started off by explaining that her keen interest in Science Communication (and Digital Science in particular) came from a passion for the ocean, her concern over its collapse, and a wish to make a positive contribution towards conservation.

She expanded on the theme of her recent Wired Article, talking about the problems that come from treating scientific research as a disposable commodity rather than a durable good, to be built incrementally over time.

Science News

“We have this situation where a paper that took 5 years to produce, which addresses 500 years of biology, gets 3 days of press attention. My question is, what happens in day 4? The media noise simply doesn’t match the severity of the problem.”

The main problem, she believes, stems from the fact that science is not the news, but gets treated as such. And by approaching it as an ephemeral commodity, we’re doing a huge disservice to the research community and society in general.

“Science News shouldn’t be something that ages. It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about science that was published last week, that is just absurd.”

She also pointed out that Twitter is becoming a useful aggregator of science news:

“We’ve reached a sort of speed limit on Twitter in we can’t produce enough news for a new tweet every five seconds, but that then creates a space for citizens to float things they believe are important back up to the surface, hence the #InCaseYouMissedIt phenomenon”

Bad Translation

Kristen also highlighted the problems around diluting or sensationalising scientific messages in order to make it more palatable or newsworthy. Since researchers don’t usually get to go on book tours or press tours to talk about their message, there is often a real danger of their work getting irrevocably misinterpreted along the way.

“The main issue here is that scientific research is so specialized that there will be very few people in the world, apart from the original researcher, who are qualified to interpret and critically analyse that output, and to translate it to a broader audience.”

There is, however, hope in the fact that we’re increasingly seeing the Internet acting as a platform for expert translators of this content.

“You now have things like Altmetrics aggregating all the chatter around scientific research. When I first started talking about this a few years ago, there was really no way for the average citizen to look at a piece of research and figure out what gravitas it had, and what its real importance was.”

However, she believes that altmetrics should not merely focus solely on counting mentions and other social interactions, but should prioritise aggregated content, curating expert opinions in such as way as to make research clearer and more accessible to the average person. At the moment, Altmetrics is something that is on the radar of the scientific community, but not exactly common knowledge to the general public. And that, says Marhaver, is something that really needs to change.

“Every paper should come with a lay summary. This kind of tool is something that everybody should know about, and should be on every search search bar: Tell me more about this research in a language that makes sense to me

That is actually something that chimes with some recent initiative by Mendeley and Elsevier, like the recently launched STM Digest , which aims to provide lay translations of scientific papers produced by experts with in-depth knowledge of the subject.

OA Fundamentalism

“It’s hard for conservationists to pick their battles wisely, but sometimes you have to let small things go to win the bigger fights.”

Kristen draws parallels here with the Open Access debate, saying there are papers that people simply need to have access to, and that some content needs OA more urgently than others. This is something that scientists have actually started to address by self-sorting based on OA importance, publishing papers with broader societal impact into Open Access journals and more specialized content in others. She recognises that Elsevier initiatives such as Atlas are a good start, but wants them to go further

“My dream is that all the big publishing houses took a small percentage of the most important papers in areas such as food security and conservation, things that they recognised that the public really needed to know about, and just opened those up?”

Talking to Ourselves

“We used to be in the proverbial scientific Ivory Tower talking to ourselves and it was considered shameful and even corrupting for scientists to mingle with the common folk”

We like to think that things have moved on since then because these conversations now happens on the Internet, but the danger is they don’t actually manage to reach the general public.

“You can’t simply rely on creating social networks around scientific content because content is too rare, if your content is PDFs, you don’t have new ones to add very often, unlike Twitter and Facebook. We also need to ask ourselves whether we’re creating great things with our knowledge, or are we just making more click bait?”

Q&A

Before going on to answer questions from the Mendeley team, Kristen finished on a positive note:

“Science Communication is booming, and baby corals are growing.”

And that just has to be a good thing.

Navigating through the digital quicksand: Announcing our next Talks@Mendeley!

Kristen Marhaver TED Global
Photo by Ryan Lash

We’re really excited to announce the speaker for the February edition of our Talks@Mendeley series, which showcases thought leaders from around the world to discuss science, technology and research issues with the Mendeley team and our community.

Kristen Marhaver is a Marine Biologist and TED Senior Fellow based in the Caribbean, who divides her time between developing ‘assisted reproduction’ methods for threatened coral species and working to change the way that scientists publish, organise, and communicate their research.

And while we certainly don’t hate corals (a requirement if you want to follow Kristen’s @CoralSci profile on Twitter) the latter part of her work certainly struck a chord with Mendeley, as we’re trying to do many of these same things for researchers around the world.

“I’m working to increase the power of science in society by challenging scientists and journalists to re-examine the inefficient publishing traditions of the past, challenging young scientists to approach the publishing process with fresh eyes rather than blindly adopting the traditions inherited from old academia”

Kristen’s talk: How to recognise digital quicksand: The modern pitfalls of science publishing and communication will discuss how the process of delivering scientific knowledge to the public is a wild maze loaded with unmarked traps. It will also provide some insights for scientists, journalist and publishers on how to identify and avoid those traps so that they can fulfil their noble duty of growing and disseminating the collective body of knowledge held by human society.

She will look at the reasons why science often fails to achieve its rightful place in society because of incentive systems that prevent focused and cohesive science communication to the public. One of the main issues she identifies is the tendency to treat science like a disposable product instead of a durable good, effectively reducing research to ‘click bait’ (something she recently wrote about in this Wired article).

Kristen Marhaver Diving in Curacao
Photo by Mark Vermelj

“There is also a big problem with many digital science tools that end up helping to insulate scientists instead of connecting them to each other and society in general, and with some of the current focus on open access, which can actually distract us from other facets of communication that matter for translating science for society.”

Spaces at the event are extremely limited, but if you’re in London on the 26th do drop us a line via email (alice.bonasio@mendeley.com) or the Team Mendeley Twitter Account. You can also Tweet your questions or comments to @MendeleyTalks and subscribe to the Mendeley YouTube channel to watch the live stream and video of Kristen’s talk!

Is Space Exploration Worth It? Mendeley Debate at the Cambridge Union Society

Space Exploration

Mendeley is sponsoring another thought-provoking debate at the Cambridge Union Society on February 5th, 2015. Scientists and charity experts will come together to place the necessity of space exploration in the context of other pressing global issues, with the motion being put forward is “This House Believes that Space Exploration is Worth the Cost”.

As governments worldwide are faced with tough funding decisions, what is the argument for prioritising this expensive area of research? Should the burden continue to be shouldered by taxpayers or will the emerging trend for commercial space exploration – spearheaded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – change everything? Google’s recent $1bn investment in SpaceX certainly points to an increased appetite in the private sector for exploring the final frontier.

Term Card

Back in October, we sponsored a debate on the issue of The Right to be Forgotten, which you can watch in full below.

This time around, the line-up of speakers discussing the issue includes the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr David Parker, Science Fiction writer Professor Alastair Reynolds and Aspiring Astronaut and Entrepreneur Christine Corbett Moran, who is also a member of the SpaceX propulsion group.

Unfortunately, previously announced speaker Adriana Ocampo, Lead Program Executive at NASA’S New Frontiers Program was unable to attend due to health reasons. Although we’re extremely sorry not to be able to welcome her in person on this occasion, she will be contributing to our Women in STEM series, so do subscribe to the Mendeley YouTube channel for her upcoming video, coming straight from NASA Headquarters! We want to keep sharing these stories from people like Adriana and Christine, to support and inspire the next generation of female scientists.

If you have any questions or comments, get in touch via Twitter (@cambridgeunion @MendeleyTalks, or @Mendeley_com) and do tune into the Live Stream from the Cambridge Union on the 5th!

KinSync – Getting documents from Mendeley to your Kindle with no wires and no fuss

KinSync logo

Q&A with Aaron Asaro, KinSync Founder 

So, in a nutshell, what is KinSync?

KinSync is a webapp, built on top of the Mendeley API, which automatically sends documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle e-reader. It aims to “Get documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle. No wires. No fuss.”

How was the app developed?

At first we wanted KinSync to completely do away with the need to print an academic paper. To achieve this, we sent PDFs to a users’ Kindle e-reader. Once we had that mechanism working, we sought to find efficient ways to annotate and highlight the documents with the Kindle. The trouble is that they’re not designed for ‘active’ reading, so we couldn’t find a good way to make that work. The first live version was therefore a bit limited.

What was the initial user reaction like?

Users seemed to like the idea at first, but stopped using it after a while because the use case we were pushing (a total replacement of printed documents) didn’t gel with their experience. This was additionally problematic as our approach to marketing has always been to build a great product and rely on people telling their friends / colleagues.

What changed, and how are users using the product now?

After about 12 months we pivoted to a free product with a set of features that more closely matched our own behavior – using KinSync to catch up on recent literature. For example, instead of printing out 20 or 30 papers each week to skim read, our users now send the papers to their Kindle. If the papers prove interesting or valuable they are then printed for more active reading (i.e. attacked with highlighters and pencil).

One feature that has helped us to attract users is “document optimization”. To begin with, PDFs were quite cumbersome to read for anyone that didn’t have a Kindle DX. However, we implemented some pretty nifty technology that breaks these documents down into the columnar components – making them a lot easier to read (as shown below).

 

Kinsync screenshot

 

What was it like working with the Mendeley API?

The API hasn’t always been the easiest to work with, particularly from a documentation standpoint. However, where this fell short the community support from the Mendeley Dev team more than made up for it. A while ago we were a little concerned that, following the Elsevier takeover, the API would be depreciated. However, we have been pleasantly surprised that Elsevier/Mendeley have instead deployed even more resources – and over time the API seems to have become more robust.

What does the future hold for KinSync?

Ever more people are getting Kindles and Amazon are doing great things to bring the technology forward and prices down. We are hoping Amazon will open up the Kindles a little more so that we can deploy some of the features that have been on ice for way too long. Until then, we will continue to experiment with different ways of best delivering this service.

Newsflo brings new impact metrics to Mendeley

NewsfloSome exciting news has just come through, in that Elsevier has acquired Newsflo, an innovative service that helps academic institutions keep track of all their media coverage and social media mentions, boosting the visibility of researchers and their work.

Whereas traditionally academia has been very insular in the way they measured impact of its research output – think “walled garden” and the tyranny of citation count – these days it is increasingly accepted that citations alone are not the most accurate way of determining the reach and usefulness of research. We’ve seen the rise of Altmetrics and Mendeley has contributed a lot to this, collaborating with others to provide readership statistics that offer the research community much more relevant and granular insight on how and where their papers are being discovered, read, annotated, shared and cited.

Newsflo takes this a step further, looking beyond scholarly use of research papers towards a “media impact metric” that can be used to measure societal impact. This certainly makes sense if you consider that the purpose of Science is, after all, to benefit the whole of humanity, and that involves effectively communicating scientific research to the general public through various media. But in a world of information overload and seemingly infinite social media channels, how do you keep track of your work once it’s released into the wider world?

That was the problem that Imperial College London PhD students Ben Kaube and Freddie Witherden set out to solve when they started Newsflo. They developed a tool that helps researchers and academic institutions to measure the wider impact of their work by tracking and analyzing media coverage of their publications and findings. Currently Newsflo tracks over 55,000 English-speaking global media sources and has the technology and network to expand to non-English language media. Newsflo applies this intelligence to mine emerging trends in the academic sector and to provide relevant media alerts.

We aim to keep researchers informed of the media interest in their work, but also to help them raise their profiles, without putting extra demands on their time. Our tool lets institutions showcase the value of their research, and being a part of Elsevier will allow us to integrate our media monitoring technology into researchers’ everyday workflow.  Ben Kaube,  Newsflo Co-founder 

Now that Newsflo has joined the Elsevier family, we will be working to incorporate all these cool features into your Mendeley profile, providing individually customized evidence of the societal impact of your research through media mentions. Also, through the ongoing integration of Mendeley with Elsevier’s existing platforms, Newsflo’s media monitoring feature will become an integrated part of the workflow of all researchers publishing with Elsevier, along with tools such as the article recommender.

It’s increasingly important for researchers and departments to be able to demonstrate societal impact in order to attract students and secure funding. The technology and expertise of the Newsflo founders will be great assets to Elsevier in continuing to advance our portfolio of innovative tools to support institutional leaders and researchers’ workflows and careers. Olivier Dumon, Managing Director of Research Application & Platforms at Elsevier

You’ve seen already some of the benefits that this type of integration can bring, where we brought in features such as the article recommender and those that let you easily export papers from Science Direct or see your Mendeley Readership stats directly from Scopus. Our recently revamped API makes it much easier for all these services, across Elsevier but also 3rd party developers, to integrate with each other. We believe the key to building the best possible user experience for researchers is to seamlessly bring together all the information, content, workflow tools and social/collaboration functionalities that they need, and we’re working hard towards that goal.

It’s also really exciting to welcome these talented young entrepreneurs and work with them to develop some great new features together. Being acquired is an amazing and very challenging journey for a startup, but I think we’ve shown just how many opportunities it can bring, and I’m looking forward to helping Newsflo make the most of it so that their product can be of greatest benefit to the research community. Jan Reichelt, Mendeley President 

Co-founders Victor Henning and Paul Foeckler also stayed on following the acquisition, with Victor remaining as CEO of Mendeley but taking on an additional role as VP of Strategy at Elsevier. He’s currently spearheading innovative collaboration initiatives such as Axon@LeWeb, which brings together the most promising emerging startups in the fields of Science and Research. Paul, meanwhile, is involved in developing a new Elsevier Open Access journal that covers all disciplines, an initiative that promises to make the process of submitting your work for publication much easier and more efficient.

We think these are exciting times indeed, but as always we’d love to hear from you with any thoughts, suggestions, praise or criticism. Leave a comment below or Tweet us at @Mendeley_com

Science Startups meet at Le Web 2014

Axon

Since becoming Elsevier’s VP of Strategy, Mendeley Co-founder and CEO Victor Henning has been up to a lot of exciting stuff. Here he tells us a bit about his latest project, Axon, which is stirring things up by bringing together the best and brightest new startups in the fields of Science and Research at Le Web 2014.

Over the last few years, I have watched something interesting happen in the world of science: Tech startups and VCs suddenly care about scientists. Strangely, this wasn’t always the case.

When the World Wide Web was invented at CERN, its original purpose was to help manage and share scientific information about particle accelerator experiments. Yet, with the exception of a few search engines, document repositories, and journal databases, the web remained barren of well-designed tools and applications engineered for scientists.

Instead, the last 15 years witnessed the explosion of the consumer web and mobile apps, fueled by advertising revenue. Jeff Hammersbacher, an early Facebook data science employee (and now founder of Cloudera), summed it up as:

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks. If instead of pointing their incredible infrastructure at making people click on ads, they pointed it at great unsolved problems in science, how would the world be different today?”

How indeed? We might be watching hilarious cat gifs on the screens of our flying cars.

Around 2008, things started to change: A small wave of bootstrapped startups began building document management tools, social networks, and recommendation engines for scientists. Among them was Mendeley, my own company. Grown out of our own frustrations as researchers, my co-founders and I built Mendeley to make science more open, more efficient, and more collaborative. Getting started wasn’t easy – many VCs turned us down because they saw research as a “niche”. We nonetheless managed to convince a couple of angel investors (among them the founders of Skype) to invest in us.

After launching in 2009, we came to LeWeb to participate in the startup competition. I have the fondest memories of the event – a freezing, pre-Christmas Paris in December, and Dave McClure, the famously foul-mouthed Silicon Valley angel investor, tweeting his sexual arousal at seeing our pitch:

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Events like LeWeb helped put us on the map with international investors, press, and potential users. From there, Mendeley grew to a research platform connecting more than 3.5 million researchers in 180 countries, with institutional customers like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. In April 2013, we were acquired by Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of science and health information.

Without wanting to claim undue credit, quite a few Ph.D. students and Postdocs who became entrepreneurs themselves have told me that Mendeley was an inspiration for them: It proved that tools for researchers could go from garage to global audience, and it proved to potential investors that the “niche” could also deliver sizeable exits.

We are now seeing the emergence of a second wave of venture-backed research startups, offering a much wider range of scientific workflow tools. They help scientists keep electronic versions of lab notebooks, organize and share experimental data, order lab materials, write papers collaboratively, outsource experiments to other labs and to the cloud, get credit for peer reviews, launch their own journals, and even raise crowdfunding for their research projects.

It’s time to give this movement more visibility. Elsevier and LeWeb 2014 are teaming up to run a half-day event called Axon@LeWeb (in case you’re wondering – in the brain, axons are the fibres that carry impulses from neurons to other nerve cells). We want to bring together the most exciting science and research startups – the ones that build tools for the best minds of our generation, to help them crack those great unsolved problems.

Startups can apply online here, and we already have applications from amazing companies in the US, Canada, Sweden, France, the UK, and Germany. The 15 best startups will receive a free ticket to LeWeb 2014, as well as the opportunity to present at Axon@LeWeb and network with the hottest companies in this space. Even if your startup is not among the 15 selected to present, Elsevier is sponsoring a €200 discount on the regular startup ticket for all science and research startups that want to join us at LeWeb.

Applications for Axon@LeWeb close on Sunday, 16th November, at midnight CET, and the winning startups will be announced by Tuesday, 18th November.

Hope to see you in Paris in December!

Is Crowdfunding a Good Option for Your Research?

Mendeley

By: Nick Dragojlovic, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia

Picture this… It’s 8am. You take your first sip of coffee, ready to start your day. You check your email and…

You find out your latest grant application didn’t get funded. Bummer.

You give it a couple of days to get over the feeling of rejection, and then start working on your next application. Rinse and repeat until you either: 1) land the grant that will keep your research program going, or 2) run out of funding and have to leave academia.

You tell yourself that in an era of budget austerity, this is just what a researcher’s life entails.

Then, in a flight of fancy, you image that maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe you could crowdfund your next research project and show the narrow-minded review committees you were right. After all, if glowing plants raised half a million dollars, you could raise $10,000 to run your study. No?

Well, maybe.

——————-

Crowdfunding can be a viable option to obtain research funds, but it’s hard work and it’s not a cash machine. So if you’re thinking about crowdfunding one of your research projects, use this Q&A to help you decide whether it’s worth the effort.

Q: How much money can I raise through crowdfunding?

A: Like so much in life, it depends.

Based on a range of estimates, the vast majority of research crowdfunding campaigns to date have raised $7,000 or less.

Some research teams, however, have managed to raise a whole lot more. If you happen to be working on Ebola during a panic-inducing epidemic, you can raise a hundred thousand dollars in short order. In fact, medical research campaigns seem to be able to raise significantly more than the average figures. A study published in Drug Discovery Today, for example, found that 97 crowdfunding campaigns focused on cancer research raised an average of about $45,500 each.

The larger amounts raised by many medical research projects are in large part due to alliances between researchers and existing medical research foundations, who are typically much better placed to raise money. The Tisch MS Center, for example, recently raised over $300,000 on Indiegogo to help fund a Phase I clinical trial of a stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis. And in perhaps the most impressive example to date, a coalition of foundations have raised over $2 million to support a Phase I trial for Abeona Therapeutics’ experimental gene therapy for Sanfillipo Syndrome.

Long story short, the amount you can plausibly raise through crowdfunding will depend on how appealing your project is to potential donors and on how big of an audience you have at your disposal, but will most likely be under $10,000.

Q: What can I do to increase my chances of success?

A: Build an audience.

Fundraising takes a lot of work. Ultimately, you’ll only attract sufficient donations if you actually ask a lot of people for money. This means you’ll have to go beyond your own personal network, and the single most important thing you can do to make that easier is to invest in building a personal following long before you even think about launching a crowdfunding campaign.

Thankfully, social media makes this possible even if you don’t get invited to appear on TV on a regular basis. In fact, building up a sizeable online audience could be worth tens of thousands of crowdfunding dollars a year. Twitter, email, and the number of media contacts fundraisers made, for example, were the three key drivers of donations in the #SciFund Challenge campaigns. In fact, taken together, Facebook (38%) and Twitter (12%) drove half of the total traffic to Hubbub, a crowdfunding service provider that focuses on higher education and non-profits. So you really need to build your online network if you’re going to crowdfund.

One thing to keep in mind is that running even a small crowdfunding campaign can help to build your audience, and that the true value of your audience goes way beyond the money you raise in your first campaign. Not only can you go back to your donors in subsequent crowdfunding campaigns, but if you keep engaging with your new followers, they will also follow you over the course of your career, and could potentially connect you to new collaborators, high-net-worth philanthropists, and investors years down the line.

Q: Which crowdfunding platform should I use?

A: It probably doesn’t matter much.

If you’ve built a large following before launching a campaign (you have, haven’t you?), then the choice of crowdfunding platform is less important than you might think, since you’ll be driving most donors to the fundraising page yourself. That said, there are a range of options.

Most smaller projects use one of the niche research-focused portals. Some of these have geographic limitations about where project creators can be based, and you’ll want to check with your university to make sure that your campaign complies with institutional policies. Be warned that most of these sites also take a percentage of any money donated (usually between 5% and 10%) as a commission.

An alternative might be to use your university’s own crowdfunding portal. More and more universities are creating their own crowdfunding sites for faculty, staff, students, and alumni to use, and they typically do not take a cut of the donations. In addition, the service providers used by many of these universities, such as Hubbub, offer in-person training and marketing advice for prospective fundraisers. If your university doesn’t have its own platform, you might also consider Hubbub’s open crowdfunding site, which doesn’t take any commissions.

Finally, a new set of online fundraising platforms for researchers are aiming to move beyond the traditional campaign-centered crowdfunding model, and to fund researchers instead of research projects. If you’re interested in doing video-based science outreach and getting viewers to “sponsor” you, you can try Thinkable, and if you’re thinking about fundraising to support your medical research lab over the long-term, you might want to check out LabCures.

Ultimately, though, the choice of platform is not as important as actually starting to talk to the public about your research and building a community of supporters.

Q:  So should I try to crowdfund my research?

A: Yes, if the conditions are right.

For most researchers (i.e., if you’re not already a super-star with a huge media presence), crowdfunding might make sense if you meet any or all of these three criteria:

  • You have an experiment that you could do for under $10,000, and data from this experiment could help you to attract funding from other sources.
  • You have a very marketable topic and/or you have the backing of a foundation or other group with an existing network of donors and supporters.
  • You want to build your online network as a long-term investment – i.e., it’s not about the money, but crowdfunding can provide the impetus for you to put in the work necessary to build your network.

And if you’re still not sure, you can always ask the crowd.

What do you think? Have you looked to crowdfunding to enable your research, or are thinking about putting together your first campaign? Join the conversation on our Mendeley Crowdfunding Group or tweet @NickDragojlovic

Nick Dragojlovic is a Vancouver-based science communication researcher passionate about how crowdfunding can be used to accelerate scientific research and biomedical innovation. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and writes about crowdfunding scientific research at Funded Science.