A Gathering Storm of Scholarly Transformation

Printer-friendly version

Author: David DeRoure

A Gathering Storm of Scholarly Transformation Posted by David De Roure on Oct 30, 2011 Bookmark and Share I've decided I like being a "transformer", which is how Harvard astronomer Alyssa Goodman addressed the participants at the Microsoft Research Transforming Scholarly Communication workshop last week. The completely cool thing about this event is that it focused our collective energies on what can be done rather than what can't - the art of the possible, with today's tools on the desktop of the researcher. I had the privilege of "facilitating" (actually just gently nudging...) one of six groups: mine was called "platforms", which was no more a reference to software or hardware platforms than to 70s footwear. My group brought together expertise in scientific practice, tool creation and in social science too. Knowing never to start with technology, I kicked off by putting social objects on the table, then Tim Clark (of SWAN ontology fame) added boundary objects aided and abetted by Cory Knobel (who also gave us the notion of the "ontic pivot"... more about those another time!) Thus we got the platform thing surrounded and came at it from a social viewpoint - researchers and the lifecycle of their work and what they share. When we looked at success factors in digital research projects the social piece was key, and when we analysed failure modes the common fault was its neglect (i.e. interoperable infrastructures are not the whole story!) That successful systems are based practically and philosophically in the Web was undisputed. From then on it was grounding in real tools and practice. We contemplated, classified and communally-tagged over 60 tools in the time available by avoiding the serialising effect of a data projector and instead worked concurrently and collaboratively in a shared document - yes we ate our own dogfood! Other groups dealt with resources, review, literature, media and recognition. This was an excellent complement to the Dagstuhl Seminar on the Future of Research Communications back in the summer, in fact six of us from Dagstuhl were present at Microsoft including Dagstuhl organisers Anita de Waard from Elsevier and Tim Clark. In Dagstuhl I gave a future look at the shared artefacts of digital research as exemplified by executable papers and journals; this time I talked about the present-day use of myExperiment. The outstanding thing about Dagstuhl was that diverse representatives of the scholarly ecosystem found a common vision on the future of research communications, plus they had the energy to do something about it... so much energy that the group calls itself Force11 (that's Future of Research Communication and e-Scholarship) - see force11.org It's been an important year - from Beyond the PDF back in January, the Executable Paper Grand Challenge in June, the creation in August of Force11 in Dagstuhl and now the practical grounding and ambition of this Microsoft Research eScience workshop. In between these events the discussions have continued, notably for me at Science Online London when Michael Neilson gave us his perspective on transformation (incidentally, Michael's book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science is now available). Significantly these events have joined transformers together (hmm, dodgy electrical metaphor!) Now we know where we are and where we're going, and we're getting a much better idea of who we are and how to get there.