Sunday, August 31, 2008

Science in the 21st Century

Only one week to go to our conference on Science in the 21st Century! Registration is closed, and by now I've managed to arrange a program (that I'm waiting to be messed up last minute) and was annoying enough to collect all but two abstracts. I am pretty excited, and very much looking forward to what I am sure will be a tremendously interesting meeting.

Just to remind you: The conference is about the three sides in the Information Triangle. It schematically depicts that information technology (IT) has given a new dimension to various aspects of scientific research and its interaction with the public. The three sides of the triangle are:

1. Science and Society

That includes topics like impact of open access on science literacy, blogging, and science journalism, as well as generally the embedding of scientific research into the society we live in - and the backreaction of the public opinion and sociological values on the scientific community.

  • Harry Collins' talk for example falls into this category. He will address the question of whether the developments in electronic media blur the boundary between acquiring specialist knowledge by social interaction with the community, and acquiring it through reading (read full abstract).


  • Steve Fuller will join us per video on Wednesday, talking about 'metascientific' instruments outside academia that judge on research, like the Citation Index and Wikipedia (I'd have put PageRank on the list!). He is addressing the question whether these interfere with research by steering science policy, and what to do about this influence. (Read full abstract).


  • David Kaiser will talk about booms and busts in the history of science, how they took hold, what consequences have they had on the world of ideas, and what impacts they've had on the direction of scientific research. (Read full abstract.)


  • Beth Noveck speaks about science in politic decision-making. How the government today gathers, analyzes and distributes scientific expertise opens the door to "science bending" - political abuse and manipulation of scientific research results. She argues that technology is changing the nature of expertise in public decision-making and might afford new opportunities for the scientific community to inform policy-making (read full abstract). Beth will later lead a "Design Exercise" in such Science Policy Making.


  • Lee Smolin will talk about ethical principles in the scientific community, and how the increased connectivity among scientists opens up new opportunities and also new challenges for the thriving of scientific communities. (Read full abstract).

We will have a discussion on Wednesday evening about these topics, which will be moderated by Steve Weinstein. Steve is a Professor for philosophy at the University of Waterloo with a cross-appointment to the Physics department, and a familiar face here at PI. He's an interesting guy in many regards and I'm happy he agreed on joining our meeting.

2. Science and IT

The way that changes in information management and community interactions affect the way we do research. That includes unreasonable enthusiasm about data-crunching (for example) as well as social networking, and analysis of community structures.

There are a lot of talks about this topic! Paul Ginsparg will talk about the next-generation implications of open access (read abstract), Cameron Neylon will tell us how he learned to stop worrying and love his blog (read abstract), Michael Nielsen talks about cultural openness and its connection to online innovation in science (see e.g. his recent post on The Future of Science, and my related post on Openness in Science), Chad Orzel from Uncertain Principles talks about weblogs and public outreach (read abstract), Jacques Distler will talk about scientific communication in a new century (read abstract), Greg Wilson aks if the web can make scientists brush their teeth (read abstract), and John Willinsky will review the public impact of developments in open access to research on education, professional practice, and public policy (read abstract).

We will have two discussions about these topics: "Science gets closer to the public" on Monday, which will be moderated by Eva Amsen from Easternblot, and "The Future of Scientific Collaboration" on Tuesday, moderated by John Dupuis from Confessions of a Science Librarian.

I am also very happy that Katy Börner will be at our conference and give a talk about how to map research areas in science, and how to keep track of scientific trends. Read abstract, or check the website. (We were talking about her bringing some of the posters to display in the lobby, but due to administrational hazard I currently don't know whether this will work out.)

3. IT and Society

The way it looks right now, there's only one talk that really falls into this category, that is Barry Wellmann's. His abstract however is long enough to make for 5 talks. I guess he'll pretty much cover every aspect of how IT developments affect our social networks.

I am also very curious about Alex Pang's evening session on Monday. He will lead an exercise to map major trends in the natural and social sciences, science policy and politics, public engagement with science (read abstract).

There were three other topics that I had in mind for the conference that would have fallen into this category: data storage (resilience of, see my post Lost in Information), information overflow (see also), and science education. It is mostly a coincidence that among the final participants nobody will talk about these aspects.

4. In Between

There are some talks that fall in between these areas, such as Andrew Odlyzko's who will speak about the evolution of scholarly communication (read abstract - somewhere between 1 and 3 I guess), and my own talk which will mostly be a motivation and an introduction of the coming talks since many of the participants do not know each other (in fact, this post will make a good draft for the talk.)

We will also have a fourth discussion on Thursday after the conference dinner about "Scientific Utopia - Alternative Forms of Scientific Research" that I expect to be of interest also for PI residents...


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14 comments:

Arun said...

'tis good! I expect some new emergent phenomena from this conference.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

It looks like a excellent and rounded group which I expect to bring forward many different thoughts, hopes and concerns. One thing I’m sort of curious about is that although Homer Dixon is listed as a participant he is not scheduled or mentioned by you to be giving a lecture. I find it strange that with his research and opinions he would not be giving a talk and leading a discussion. It appears the whole information overload and related issues are not being all that well represented or explored at this meeting.

Best,

Phil

jal said...

Talk about overload!!!
I'm forever being challenged to learn new communication mediums.
I've gone and signed in at science 21 and I'm not sure on how it operates for communications.
I don't bother with chat rooms for the same reason.
Does that make me too young or too old?
There are only so many hours in a day to do important things like "put food on the table".

The KISS method is not being implemented sufficiently.
jal

stefan said...

Congratulations that after all the long and tedious planning and organizing, the schedule eventually has come to a final form :-)

Good luck and much success next week!

Cheers, Stefan

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Jal,

“The KISS method is not being implemented sufficiently.”

I’m afraid my greatest concern is that the internet is having your “KISS” to mean ‘Keep it Stupid, Stupid and unfortunately up untill now are succeeding wonderfully :-)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Homer-Dixon let us know he will try to be around as much as possible but his schedule is too packed to make commitments. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

Indeed, I hope to kickstart some thoughprocesses with this conference. Now back to preparing my talk...

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks for the explanation. However, don’t you find it somewhat ironic that someone who warns us about overload of information has fell victim to overload of another kind, namely commitment overload. Perhaps the subject matter for a future conference or book:-)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

No, in fact I don't find this ironic. He's been very clear with that from the beginning. I find much more annoying those people who first agree on coming but then realize a week before the conference they can't make it, or prepare their talk in other people's sessions etc. It signals to me an incredibly bad time management. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Point taken and agreed. I do so hope that he will have an opportunity to express his viewpoint and have it considered. I guess that half a Homer-Dixon should be considered better then none.

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

This is politics and science, but given the weight the US has in the scientific world, it is important, I think.

Presidential Science Platform

Quote:

The responses he provided to all the questions, which dealt with a range of topics including ocean health, stem cell research and scientific integrity, reveal a depth of knowledge and an appreciation for what good science can accomplish. While there's no guarantee that he will actually follow through on all of his proposals, it says something that he (or at least his advisors) took the time to hammer out such concrete policies. Obama understands that he needs a well-educated and highly skilled workforce to help many of his most far-seeing policies come to fruition.

For somebody in my position, who often hears about promising young scientists leaving academe because of a lack of funding, it's extremely encouraging to hear a candidate pledge to "harness science and technology to address the "grand challenges" of the 21st century" by doubling research budgets over the next decade.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

"harness science and technology to address the "grand challenges" of the 21st century"

While a harness may at times be appropriate for technology I feel it should never be applied to science.

Best,

Phil

Another Private Physicist said...

One really depressing aspect of "science in the 21st century" is the growth of what might be called "consensus science". You know, the kind of thing that is intended when people say things like "most physicists privately believe that [the landscape/mathematical physics generally/Ed Witten's latest/etcetcetc] is crap". Peter Woit is the prime exponent of this on the blogs; he constantly tells us that all of the [anonymous] physicists he talks to agree with his views on the landscape. ["In private one finds that most physicists consider this to be a really bad joke......If you think this is widely taken seriously in physics departments, try asking around....."]. Apparently it does not occur to him that it would be trivially easy to find physicists who would be equally scathing about his own research and the kinds of research he favors....or indeed about just about *any* field of research.

Now anyone who works at the mathematical end of physics has for many years been well aware that such work is regarded with contempt by many many [supposedly] "more experimentally oriented" colleagues. We have learned how to deal with this: to cut a long story short, we don't give a rat's ass about the opinions of people who are not qualified to make judgements about our work. That is as it should be. The most spectacular example where non-expert physicists were allowed to interfere with the work of real experts was when condensed matter physicists were essentially allowed to stop the SSC. One would think that we would have learned something from that catastrophe, but I'm sad to say that many physics blogs seem to be contributing to a return of Science By Consensus. Is there any way of preventing 21st century science from suffering this fate?

Perhaps the proprietors of science blogs can begin by taking care to emphasize that the degree to which opinions should be taken seriously should be modulated by the evidence as to whether the person expressing it knows what he is talking about.

Bee said...

Hi Private Physicist,

Perhaps the proprietors of science blogs can begin by taking care to emphasize that the degree to which opinions should be taken seriously should be modulated by the evidence as to whether the person expressing it knows what he is talking about.

Well, we all have learned in highschool that to evaluate sources one needs to take into account the writer's social, cultural and educational background (at least I hope so, I admittedly don't know very much about US education). So that amount of critical thinking one should generally expect of the reader. (One of the reasons btw why I very much dislike to use anonymity without any need to.)

I'm not sure what this has to do with Peter specifically, but what you say touches on two points that will probably come up in my talk at the conference, that is

a) the communication of research to the public. It is indeed true, as far as I can tell, that often what is in the media proclaimed to be an important question isn't something people working in the field care very much about.
b) the communication inside our community. In which people will often take the point of view what they themselves do is of course the most important thing.

Otoh I don't share your impression that highly mathematical work is regarded with contempt by the more experimentally oriented people. Between fields that are so far off each other that there's no competition anyway, I've always had a strong sense of live and let live. The situation gets only nasty if you look into areas where there's a food fight going on.

Best,

B.