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Open Science, SciBarCamp and Les Horribles Cernettes


by Graham Steel.

Eva Amsen is a former biochemist who left the lab for the laptop and now spends most of her time communicating with researchers, reading about science and publishing, writing, interviewing scientists about their hobbies, and maintaining far too many blogs.

Science Barcamp Cambridge (SciBarCamb) is an event that you help to organise. How did you become involved in that and and can you describe its connection with Open Science, a subject covered in Michael Nielsen’s recent book “Reinventing Discovery”?

I was involved with the first SciBarCamp in Toronto, and, when I moved to Cambridge, people asked me to set one up there as well. SciBarCamp events are “unconferences” about science, where the participants decide the program. It’s inspired by SciFoo, in the same way that Foo Camp inspired the more general and techy barcamps. I had lunch with Michael Nielsen in Toronto back in late 2007, when we talked about the Sci Foo concept and how someone should start a spinoff science barcamp.

By the end of lunch we realised that that "someone" was going to be us. I was one of the organisers of the first SciBarCamp in 2008, together with Jen Dodd and Jamie McQuay, and Michael was one of the advisors, with Lee Smolin and Karl Schroeder. From this first SciBarCamp came several more, organised by a variety of people. Two attendees of the first Cambridge event set up SciBarCamp Vienna, which in turn inspired others in Europe. Anyone can organise a SciBarCamp event if they want to; that’s the great thing about the barcamp concept.

Open Science was one of the core topics of the first Toronto SciBarCamp (in part due to Michael’s involvement), but it pops up at every SciBarCamp event. It’s a place where new ideas have a place to grow, so it speaks to the Open Science movement.

In terms of science communication/web 2.0 tools, new entities such as figshare and altmetrics etc. are emerging. Your thoughts on those two?

figshare and altmetrics are among the first signs that science publishing is catching up to online communication and reputation systems. These are exciting times, but also confusing times for researchers, who have only ever learned to deal with the traditional article format and its corresponding metrics of success. It’s going to take a few years for a new “normal” way of communicating research to establish, and I don’t think anyone knows exactly what’s going to happen. In the end, though, it will have been built on a groundwork of many different ideas for progress and figshare and altmetrics are two of those ideas.

You are the Community Manager over at the Node. How do you think the Node may be of interest to Biology figshare users?

The Node is a community blog for and by developmental biologists. Anyone can create an account, and once their account is approved they can use the Node to write about things of interest to developmental biologists: an event they’ve attended, or a paper they’ve read, or something they’re working on. The Node is read by developmental biologists worldwide, so it would be a good place to highlight figshare content that is of particular interest to this group. If anyone would like to feature some figshare content on the Node, feel free to ask me for help, or just register and follow the instructions.

On a lighter “note”, on your blog Musicians and Scientists – you ask “Why are so many people involved in both music and science? I’m on a mission to find out”. Now that we have the web, do you think this has had an effect and in what way(s)?

Yes, but the web has not necessarily affected whether people practice both science and music in the first place. There have always been “scientist-musicians”: Herschel, Borodin, Elgar, and Einstein all did both, long before the web. But the web has made it easier for amateur musicians to find an audience, and for non-professional scientists (some of whom are musicians) to engage in citizen science projects like Galaxy Zoo. The web is a playground for creativity and for exploring and learning new things, and that is the perfect environment for people who are drawn to multiple disciplines. So you do find a lot of scientist-musicians online, but many are also still in the traditional environment of amateur orchestras, or on stage at department socials. The web hasn’t changed that.

What has changed is that science-inspired musical acts are now able to move beyond the department social to the web. In fact, the very first image on the web was a picture of Les Horribles Cernettes, a band made up of CERN staff members who sing about high energy physics! So while the web may not have that much influence on the overlap between science and music, science and music have definitely shaped the history of the web!

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