Sciblog 2008 (part 3)
The panel discussion with Jenny Rohn, Grrl Scientist and Anna Kushnir, and introduced by the great Mo Costandi, was wide-ranging and thought-provoking.
Bloggers are perceived as odd, Grrl Scientist said, but blogging gives everyone an opportunity to glimpse a life and communicate. Jenny said that she sees it as an opportunity to give a realisitic view of what happens when living the scientific life. While Anna valued it as a support group which she found particularly helpful when going through grad school.
They also considered the question of anonymity - the pros (more freedom to express how you really feel, and what a life in science is really like) and the cons (the danger of being 'outed' and the possible detrimental effect on career).
There was also an interesting discussion on how they handled negative comments. After consideration of the various options (ignore and delete, just ignore and leave, answer) it was generally decided (I think) that the best approach is to answer politely and then ignore and delete if things become offensive.
After a short break in which everyone voted for the 'unconferenced' session in the afternoon it was time for the morning break out sessions. The choice was 'How to make Friend Feeds and Influence People' by Matt Wood, 'How to Enhance your Blog' by Maxine Clarke and Euan Adie and Can Blogging Unlock Your Creativity by Henry Gee, Brian Clegg and me. We were all brilliant, obviously. Especially Brian and Henry.
(Henry, Brian and me in the Faraday lecture Theatre - photo by Duncan Hull of O'Really Blog)
After lunch there was a difficult choice: 'Science in Second Life' by Jo Scott, or 'Science Blogs and On-line forums as Teaching Tools' by Martin Fenner, Oliver Obst and Jeff Marlow or 'Communicating Primary Research Publicly' by Heather Etchevers, Bob O'Hara, and Jean-Claude Bradley - which was the one I decided to attend.
Jean-Claude requires all his team to blog and there was much discussion of the benefits. It enables people to tell the world about their results even if they can't get a paper out of it; it can be for general public information and as a general useful laboratory notebook for your own and the rest of the team's reference.
I must admit I very much like the democratic and altruistic philosphy behind this, and must be much the same as the one that drives Wikipedia. However there were objections from members of the audience and I can see their point of view too.
These days, scientific life, like all life, is a struggle. There is competition for work and some scientists argued that if they were to publish their work in this way they might lose ground. As one of the speakers said - 'It depends'...on the sort of work you do, stage of your career and who you work for.
I thought back. Virtually all the post-doctoral work I did was unpublishable due to who employed me: the American army and then industry.
Ha, military secrets and then industrial ones! I'm beginning to be quite glad blogging wasn't around then because I doubt very much I could have withstood the temptation. It would have started anonymously, and then I would have got carried away and accidentally posted something that identified me, then deleted it and spent the next ten years worrying about it. Yes, a very good thing this Hodmandod missed this particular technological revolution in her youth.
The Sciblog report concludes here.