Open Science

One of the ways in which myself and my colleagues in UKOLN keep up-to-date with new developments across our communities is through the UKOLN seminar programme. The speakers tend to be those who are working in areas related to our interests and have something new to say.

The most recent seminar was given by Cameron Neylon, of STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and School of Chemistry, University of Southampton. The title of Cameron’s talk was “A Beginner’s Guide to Open Science: Not for beginners but by beginners“. Cameron described his involvement in various aspects of ‘openness’ within the context of scientific research. Further information on his work is available from his Science In the Open blog – and he also contributes to the Openwetware blog, as you can see from his thoughts on his visit at UKOLN. He described how Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis are being used by the scientific research community, not only for making notes and sharing ideas, etc. using blogs and wikis in ways which will be familiar with readers of this blog, but also what I would describe as ‘semantic blogging’ – use of templates to allow structured information (e.g. names of objects, processes, etc) to be used in ways which allowed for rich use with the blog/wiki environment and reuse in other contexts. For example in the Sortase Cloning example, the data in the table in not created using a table editor (which can lead to errors being introduced) – rather a template will ensure that the data is valid. In addition the data is integrated with other relevant areas of the blog. Effectively the blog is being used as a structured scientific content management system.

Cameron also described OpenWetWare – “an effort to promote the sharing of information, know-how, and wisdom among researchers and groups who are working in biology & biological engineering” which runs on the MediaWiki software. Another example Cameron provided of use a a wiki within this community was UsefulChem, which this in this case uses the externally-hosted Wikispaces service.

As well as illustrated how blogs and wikis are being used by the scientific research community, Cameron also described how he is embracing the Web 2.0 philosophy of openness. In a post on “The OPEN Research Network Proposal – update and reflections” Cameron described an open process for submitting a proposal for a research grant. The proposal was written using Google Docs and the final version, prior to its migration to an in-house application for producing the PDF in a format required by the research council, is freely available for viewing. – and, if you are interesting, you can compare buy antibiotics greece this with the version which was submitted(PDF file) to the funding council.

Use of blogs, wikis and open development – some great example of how Web 2.0 is being used by the research community. And, as I discovered when Googling for further information on Cameron Neylon’s work, it doesn’t stop there. A number of given by Cameron and others involved in open Science activities have been videoed, screencasted or recorded. For example a talk by Jean-Claude Bradley on “Open Notebook Science: Putting the Information User in Control through Transparency” is available as a screencast using the Google Video playerand several talks are available as podcasts through iTunes, as illustrated below.

Cameron Neylon's Podcasts available using iTunes

Open Seminars

This latter example reflects some of my current activities. Cameron kindly gave me permission to video his talk and, as an experiment, I have uploaded the first 10 minutes of the talk (which is all I took) to YouTube.


I’m aware of the limitations of this particular video: I didn’t have my tripod to hand, for example and there is visual clutter – bottles of mineral water  – in front of the speaker (although perhaps this could provide an  for a sponsorship deal :-). And there are clearly resource implications in recording seminars on a systematic basis (provided, of course, that speakers would be willing for their talks to be made publicly available). In this case, however, (using my Casio Exlim EX-Z1080 camera) I simply needed to take the recording and plug the camera into my PC. I was then asked which application I wished to use. selecting the YouTube uploader, I simply needed to fill in a few fields and press the upload button. Simplicity itself – and it was pleasing to receive an unsolicited email from a colleague saying “Thanks Brian, that was useful to get a feel for the seminar since I missed it yesterday“.

I think it was particularly appropriate that a seminar on Open Science provided an opportunity for this initial experiment in opening up access to the talk to a wider audience. But what do you feel about this? Is the light weight approach adequate? Is the 10 minute clip sufficient or does the lack of the full talk frustrate you? From the point of view of the speaker and the main audience (colleagues at UKOLN and other participants from the University) would such openness tend to stifle open discussion and debate? And, finally, can we, if we are thinking about making greater use of video recordings, really justify the additional time and effort this make take?