Saturday, September 13, 2008

Science in the 21st Century: Summary

Last week's conference has been a tremendously interesting meeting that gave me a lot to think about. I am simply unable to briefly summarize it, especially since I'm already packing bags to head off for another workshop - oh, excuse me, it's called a "Symposium" not a workshop. So instead, I just want to tell you about yesterday's summary discussion, moderated by Michael Nielsen.

Michael picked three people and asked them to answer the following two questions:

1) What was the most striking thing you learned at this conference?
2) Will what you heard here make you change something in your professional life?

The people he selected were Chad Orzel, David Kaiser, and Garrett Lisi, who have quite a different background and lifestyle.

Chad said he was intrigued by John Willinsky's talk and by learning about the Public Knowledge Project. Chad's main concern is making scientific work more accessible, for the broader community as well as to the public, and this project has a lot potential in this regard. As to the second question, he found it very interesting to learn about the benefits of having an open lab notebook from Cameron Neylon's talk, and what other tools are out there. He said he had never thought of the open science movement as interesting but it seems worth looking into. It is attractive, so he said, not in a philosophical but in a hands-on way, and he might look into that closer.

David said that he came to this meeting thinking there is an absolute limit to how much of real interaction can ever be substituted by virtual communication channels, and that there is “some residual unanalyzable something” which could never be replaced. He was surprised to learn how much human interaction and collaboration meanwhile can take place online, and is wondering whether virtual interaction we will maybe asymptotically approach the real one. Regarding the second question he said he doesn't have a blog, and never reads blogs because he hasn't been convinced of the value in that before. But possibly he might reconsider...

Garrett explained he was thrilled to learn of Mendeley from Victor Henning's talk, and generally by the combination of people at the meeting, people who normally wouldn't interact. He further said that he used to think of journals as “dinosaurs that would eventually die out,” but Timo Hannay's talk shed a different light on the role of journals. If you haven't looked at Timo's talk, it is very recommendable and entertaining. Timo told us about the various ways in which Nature facilitate communication of science, both in and outside the community - a mission far beyond printing a magazine. Garrett further said Lee's talk gave him something to ponder, since he hadn't thought before of the social aspects of the scientific endeavor and the importance of the opinion building in the community.

As to me, I absolutely loved Eric Weinstein's talk and was surprised to learn how tall Chad is! I further heard so much about the merits of wikis that I've created one. Now I only have to convince my collaborators to also use it...


TAGS:

18 comments:

Uncle Al said...

The IBM PC appeared 12 August 12 1981. Ten years later folks doubted promised productivity. In 2008 there are more supercomputers than drafting tables.

The Internet ignited ~1995. World-bending effects of cheap facile distributed knowledge are due ~2015, to be heralded by lawsuits from intellectually disenfranchised victims!

stefan said...

Thanks for the summary :-)

I further heard so much about the merits of wikis that I've created one.

But you haven't given a link?

Cheers, Stefan

Bee said...

Not an open wiki. If something comes out of it, you'll hear about it on this blog first :-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks once again for the run down on what took place at the conference and I look forward to your postings in the future that will expand on some of it from your own perspective. I will also have a look at the talks you pointed to.

In that regard I have already looked at Smolin’s presentation and can’t find much I disagree with (somewhat disappointing):-) His views on what should remain as the foundational ethics in the community and how that links to amenity being not only counter to these foundations and principles yet also being harmful and destructive in such regard I feel as being undeniable.

To clarify for your readers I should say when amenity is used by the professional and not the general public. The question that forms for me is how could the majority ever distinguish the difference in many cases? I’m aware that for those of the discipline most would not have much of problem, yet what about the public at large, who to a large degree one argument looks as equally valid if presented at a technical level that exceeds there own comprehension.

It is actually the erosion of respect and trust of science in the public’s eye that Smolin is in part addressing here and I find that to limit ones discouragement of amenity to the pros would not go far enough to alleviate the problem.

Best,

Phil

McDawg said...

Nice one Bee,

Well done.

Am gradually working my way through the videos. Tiring work - but all v. interesting.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Since my last note I’ve had a look at the Weinstein’s talk you mentioned and where intrigued with. From what I can gather of his argument is he is convinced that much of groundbreaking science is manifest of boldness as much if not more so as being a consequence of intellect. As far as that goes I have had similar thoughts, although I would admit not having it springing from the analytical methods and depth of consideration he assigns.

I would say for instance that Einstein fits as being an example of such a person and those like Georg Cantor, just to name a few of whom I’m familiar. However, where I differ with him is that he feels that we somehow could manufacture such boldness by offering some early identified as bright mavericks some kind of protection. I would ague that boldness cannot be manufactured rather it is innate. To protect doesn’t create boldness yet rather fosters and promotes the opposite. I would agree that often boldness is linked to creativity and yet must be real in nature or produced by a method that would have it be the same.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Reg. Lee's talk, this reminds me I had a comment about it, but then I decided to better cut off the discussion after Paul's remark. Lee said at some point that the percentage of accepted NSF grant proposals that came from first time applicants (i.e. mostly young people) dropped from 22% to 15%. That is correct, but the conclusion he drew from that is incorrect. The NSF has investigated these trends very closely in a report (currently can't find the link, will add it later), and it shows clearly that this drop in acceptance for first applicants is the same as the drop in overall acceptance. I.e. it does not document an increasing disadvantage for younger people. What it shows instead is that people are writing more and more proposals, so more of them get declined. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Just as a P.S. I would like to point out that the boldness we are talking about may indicate that those who possess it have a regard or love for the discipline that in some respect supersedes that of themselves. I feel that what Weinstein is proposing is counter to this and am at a loss as to how such a person could be identified other the have what is truly required be forced upon them and accepted.

To tear a page from Weinstein and use a genetic parallel, it has been identified that hygiene is connected with the rise in allergies,while the opposite conditions lessens them. I would say realitive safety the same has created a rise in anxiety, manifesting paranoia in the world (as there is less real to worry about) much the same and thus I can’t imagine how guarantees of safety could foster boldness.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

”What it shows instead is that people are writing more and more proposals, so more of them get declined.”

Interesting as unemployment numbers in general are often misinterpreted. That is often when actual unemployment is at its greatest the data is oft times somewhat skewed, as they show less for it doesn’t indicate how many have simply given up. This seems to indicate that expectations are high as there is a feeling that more is available perhaps.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Well, I probably wouldn't have called it boldness, but I see what you mean. I said a very similar thing in my talk, though I put it differently. I was talking about ideas that need time to grow up, and become mature to even arrive at a stage where they can be tested. It depends very much on our community whether an idea survives long enough to even reach that maturity. I totally agree with Eric that there can be a long period in which an approach doesn't seem to make sense, is difficult to communicate, and it's entirely unclear whether something will ever come out of it. I also agree that in most cases nothing will come out of it. But if we erase the possibility for people to have sufficient time and support even in the phases where the outcome isn't clear, I think we are erasing a part of science that is essential to progress. Eric said that much clearer than I did. Best,

B.

Bee said...

I think it's a sign of desperation.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

"I think it's a sign of desperation."

This could be and my question would be is it a justifiable perception? Proper analysis based on data carefully gathered and considered should be able to determine this, which of course is one of true strengths of science.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Sure. I wrote above what the numbers say, the rest is just my interpretation. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee and all,

I just noticed that in discussing Smolin’s talk I used the word "amenity" instead of what should have been "anonymity" and so I have rewritten it below so corrected. I wish my English was as good as your Germanenglish at such times. Actually amenity was one thing Smolin encouraged rather then discouraged.

Hi Bee,

Thanks once again for the run down on what took place at the conference and I look forward to your postings in the future that will expand on some of it from your own perspective. I will also have a look at the talks you pointed to.

In that regard I have already looked at Smolin’s presentation and can’t find much I disagree with (somewhat disappointing):-) His views on what should remain as the foundational ethics in the community and how that links to anonymity being not only counter to these foundations and principles yet also being harmful and destructive in such regard I feel as being undeniable.

To clarify for your readers I should say when anonymity is used by the professional and not the general public. The question that forms for me is how could the majority ever distinguish the difference in many cases? I’m aware that for those of the discipline most would not have much of a problem, yet what about the public at large, who to a large degree one argument looks as equally valid if presented at a technical level that exceeds there own comprehension.

It is actually the erosion of respect and trust of science in the public’s eye that Smolin is in part addressing here and I find that to limit ones discouragement of anonymity to the pros would not go far enough to alleviate the problem.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“But if we erase the possibility for people to have sufficient time and support even in the phases where the outcome isn't clear, I think we are erasing a part of science that is essential to progress.”

I would agree that to give those who may be considered as the best and the brightest a far chance is always not only good for any discipline yet simply fair. As to that being bold however is another matter, one which I beleive is not so readily quantified as qualities often present themselves to be.

Best,

Phil

Dylan Dog said...

"The Symposia in the Studio of the Villa Bosch at Heidelberg deal with the generation, diffusion and application of knowledge under special consideration of the role of the spatial context and the spatial dimension of knowledge-disparities. The topic Knowledge and Space covers various interrelated research questions, which are of great political and economical relevance to society."

Ein voller Becher Weins
zur rechten Zeit
Ist mehr wert, ist mehr wert, ist mehr wert als alle Symposien dieser Erde!

Meanwhile, other pressing questions remain. What about the generation, diffusion and application of knowledge under special consideration of the role of the *temporal* context and the *temporal* dimension of knowledge-disparities? And what about the Meaning of Life? Eh?

Chip Neville said...

Hi Bee,

Here's something interesting for NEXT YEAR from Cosmic Variance:

"Guest Post: George Djorgovski, A New World Overture" at

Guest Post: George Djorgovski, A New World Overture over at Cosmic Variance at

http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/11/03/guest-post-george-djorgovski-a-new-world-overture/

It's about using Virtual Worlds (Virtual Reality - specifically Second Life) for scientific communication. Very interesting. He'd make a wonderful speaker for next year.

Best,
Chip Neville

Bee said...

Hi Chip,

Yes, thanks. I saw it, very interesting indeed! Best,

B.