Posted by katiefraser on 5 September, 2010
Yesterday I visited Science Online London (the second day). It’s subtitle is ‘How is the web changing science?’ but it’s a general mishmash of people from various walks who share an enthusiasm for science and the web, talking about what they’re doing, and how they can share this enthusiasm.
For me, the breakout sessions were the most interesting portions, so I’ll summarise those briefly with some reflections on what I learnt from them.
Tracking researcher identity: pragmatics and ethics
The first session I attended was looking at an author ID system, ORCID. Such systems try to avoid confusion between academic authors with similar namesby assigning them a unique ID. I’m already signed up to Thomson Reuter’s ResearcherID system, to give an example. This is a more top down alternative to the bottom up approach where databases use algorithms to try to differentiate between different authors. I understand these algorithms are usually successful, but perhaps because of my limited academic output, I’ve found myself lumped in with other “K Fraser”s on more than one occasion.
ORCID aims to overcome some of the reluctance researchers have to sign up to proprietary author ID systems, and offer a central, open and transparent registry instead. The session came alive in the discussion of what such a system could do – such as create a far more nuanced record of who had contributed what to a paper than the traditional author order could capture – and the ethics behind it – should a researcher’s ID keep track of rebuttals of their work? There are a lot of positives to such a system from a librarian’s perspective (easier author search, simplified tracking down of academics’ papers for the institutional repository) so it was great to have a balanced discussion from a range of stakeholders.
What scientists want (and how to give it to them)
The second breakout session I attended was part of the ‘unconference’ (essentially some sessions which were crowdsourced from attendees the previous day). This session focused on ‘users’ (which turned out to be scientists). The most interesting bits for me were a discussion of what scientists wanted from technology (they want better publication and information gathering tools: librarians take note) and one slightly awkward but fascinating section in which a marketing specialist tried to get the scientists to identify the best way to market to them.
Obviously I had my ears open for the marketing questions, as sometimes it’s hard for the library to ‘sell’ services to academics. The main message was that scientists will come and look for information as and when they need it, and so when they do come looking, you’d better be i) easy to find and ii) prepared with a pitch and some examples of how great your services are. I’m currently mulling over ways to achieve these two things as a librarian: suggestions welcome!
The “broken publishing system”: whose responsibility is it?
The last session I attended was ostensibly a discussion of open access publishing, but centred mostly on impact factors, a way of recording how widely read journal are, at the title level. Discussions with Nancy, our library bibliometrician have already highlighted to me that judging a paper by which journal it’s in is a flawed idea, but I was surprised to hear that no one in the room – publishers included – thought they were useful or valid. Somehow impact factors have been seized as a key evaluation metric, and everyone is only interested in them to the extent that others are using them to evaluate their output!
All were agreed that something should be done to avoid this focus on impact factors, but disagreement centred on whether small acts of protest at this system (opting out, voting with your feet) or a coordinated protest (demanding an overhaul of the system at the highest levels) were needed. Again, suggestions for action welcome!
Overall, this was an interesting conference to attend, and I felt I learnt a lot about how scientists view the services on offer to them. Oddly, however, I think maybe I’d be more comfortable presenting at it if I attended again: a lot of the sessions were based on the assumption that the audience was composed of scientists, and I felt like more like an observer than a participant in the discussion sometimes. However, participant observation is a time-honoured way of getting to know a culture better, and I’m sure I’ll use my observations to help inform the library’s development of services over the next year: maybe with something new to contribute to the discussion of scientists online at the end.