The European Commission (EC) has a complicated relationship with media campaigns. Two years ago, its #sciencegirlthing campaign and the accompanying ridiculous video earned it some pretty heavy criticism.
While it was generally agreed that intentions were good, when considering the practical realisation, the phrase a miss is as good as a mile sprung to mind (see here, here and here). After such an epic failure, you’d think the EC learnt its lesson when it comes to media campaigns. Alas, it is not so. Last week, they launched a public consultation on “Science 2.0” (#science20). Initially, I was thrilled: finally, decision makers wanted to hear my opinion on the topic. However, as I went through their website my heart sank: once again, they’ve got it all wrong, bunching together different aspects of Science 2.0, not differentiating sufficiently between different groups of respondents, and generally not quite getting the point why researchers are using online tools.
But lets start at the beginning. In case you were wondering, the term Science 2.0 is modeled on the Web 2.0 concept, and essentially describes how the scientific community (researchers, their institutions, publishers, funding agencies etc) is increasingly turning towards modern media to share and gather information in a more interactive fashion. Even if some researchers and organisations are slower than others at jumping on the bandwagon, this process is clearly happening and has the potential to influence almost all aspects of research. This is what the current consultation is about. The EC would like to get our feedback on the topic. According to their website the “goal of the consultation is to better understand the full societal potential of ‘Science 2.0’ as well as the desirability of any possible policy action.“ So far, so good.
In practical terms, the ECs website first provides respondents with a background paper, and then asks them to fill in a questionnaire. Problems already start with the background paper. It is amateurishly written – and it is unclear by whom (are these people experts in the field?). And from start to finish (but especially towards the end) it remains uncertain what the purpose of the paper is. Is the EC providing background facts? Or are these just speculations? In their overview and analysis the paper indiscriminately lumps different aspects of Science 2.0 together, and many of the claims remain unsupported (or at least unreferenced). Let’s take, for example, the 1st figure, apparently meant to give an overview of how the reserach process is „opening up“, with different steps of the „reserach cycle“ (in blue) linked to the „interconnected trends within Science 2.0“ (in salmon).
Aside the fact that the figure looks like one of those on-the-fly discussion boards we used to jot down during high school debate class, it is also completely un-understandable and oversimplified. Sure, Science 2.0 processes are interconnected with each other and the „research cycle“, but certainly, a more nuanced representation should have been possible. Something like the figure below, to show that the users/target audience of Science 2.0 can be very diverse and different tools may be used for one or another purpose.
Some more faux-pas from the text:
1. A bunch of jargon and unexplained abbreviations (ICT, SMEs, TDM, ‘digital natives‘).
2. Unreferenced data: the paper lists six driving forces behind Science 2.0, but none of these are curiosity or speed, although I’m pretty sure many researchers in my age group participate not out of necessity, or due to the availability of webtools, but because it’s an interesting and exciting new terrain to explore – and because we can access information far more quickly than via traditional tools. So what exactly was the source data for their list?
3. Fact or speculation? When listing possible limitations, the paper states, “Researchers are likely to see citizen engagement as a research resource only and not to consider the additional benefits of enhanced public understanding of science” and “Writing about work in progress includes the risk of making mistakes. Scientists are afraid of exposing these.” These may be valid and true points, but it remains unclear whether “possible barriers” means, “the EC thinks these could be barriers” or “these are real barriers, but we don’t yet know what impact they will have”.
Seriously, who wrote this paper? Did anyone proofread it?
Moving from the background paper to the questionnaire, some things improve, but many of the general problems remain, particularly that of lumping different things together. Already the first point is off:
Or let’s look at section E, inquiring if Science 2.0 activities should play a role in career progression? What kind of a question is that? Science 2.0 is so diverse: what if I think participating in OA should be an absolute necessity for career progression, whereas engaging in citizen science or outreach should be more optional. Same goes for “What are the most effective channels for raising awareness/what are the opportunities/what are the barriers for Science 2.0” questions. Which aspect of Science 2.0 do you mean in these sections??? And finally, on a more personal note: the EC thinks (or thinks research institutions think) about science as a “value for money” enterprise (section F)? I am shocked.
To summarize my healthy outburst of anger: I do think the idea of the Science 2.0 consultation is great. However, once again, there’s much space for improvement when it comes to execution: the accompanying paper is rubbish, and the questionnaire is primarily saved by the large number of free text boxes that are available at the end of most sections. It’s such a shame: a slightly more nuanced approach could really have made this a greatly more enjoyable experience. Nevertheless, fellow scientists/bloggers/digital natives, please do go and fill in the questionnaire, let’s see if we can shape how Science 2.0 is perceived in the future!