It’s nice to be right sometimes…

I philosophize a lot about the role of journals and scientific publishing as part of the academic ecosystem – and especially how this ecosystem will change. Only last week my boss, Arjun, and I published a blog post (Results from the Guess the Impact Factor Challenge) analyzing how people perceive the of titles of scientific articles. But even back in 2015 I played around with predicting how the role of journals might shift. One of the predictions I made was that

…in The MacGyver age of content creation […], from pre-print servers (like BioRxiv) through science blogging and open lab notebooks, […] “legacy” journals as they exist today will become obsolete. […] Their role will change. So, taking a leaf from the media book, I predict that a key function of journals in the future will be to connect readers to relevant content published across the web.

Now it’s 2017 and Springer Nature just announced Recommended, “a new service which connects the research community with the most relevant content”.

It is definitely nice to be right sometimes 🙂

Looking forward, this also means that we should now be thinking about life after preprints: While in theory preprints could have a truly democratizing effect (anyone anywhere would be able to access papers without a paywall), in practice I’m not sure that potential will be realized. If people can’t trawl online content efficiently, they will rely on recommendation services, which – if in the wrong hands – may well introduce biases and favoritism. Thus, an effort to develop a fair (ideally mainly content/quality-driven) recommendation service hand-in-hand with the open access/preprint movement will be vital to create a healthy, balanced publishing landscape…

 

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How free is Freedom of Speech in academia?

I’ve been hearing a lot about freedom of speech for scientists these last few weeks, inspired mainly by the efforts of the new US government to silence scientists and state employees, particularly on the topic of climate change. It’s been interesting: I’ve learned about what rights government employees have when it comes to freedom of speech, read some interesting comparisons with Canadian science (where government researchers were in a similar bind under the Harper administration, some good reads here and here), absolutely loved the “rogue” National Park Service twitter accounts and of course, I’m looking forward to the March For Science in April. I truly believe that Freedom of Speech should be a thing. Government agencies (or academic institutions in general) should not have the right to gag scientists based on idealogical or political interests.

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Speech by PineLife via flickr.

However, there’s this thing that’s been kind of bugging me: I remember the Tim Hunt scandal two years ago (in case you don’t remember, you can read more here and a follow-up from 6 months later) and the Jim Watson one before that, when everyone was up in arms that renown, Nobel-prize-winning, member-of-a-gazillion-scientific organisations-and-boards scientists should NOT be allowed to say certain things. Which makes me wonder: what exactly are the rules of free speech for scientists? Continue reading

Death and the Penguin, science edition?

a.k.a. Musings about predictability in science

death-and-the-penguin-300dpiOne of my favourite books is Death and the Penguin, by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. The protagonists of the book are Viktor, a young writer who’s struggling to survive in post-Soviet Ukraine, and Misha, a king penguin, whom Viktor adopted from the local zoo after it went bankrupt and who now lives in Victor’s bath tub. To pay for bills (and frozen fish for Misha) Viktor accepts a job writing obituaries for the local newspaper. However, there’s a twist: the people he writes about aren’t dead – yet. Once he writes about their sad passing, they mysteriously die. For example, a senior politician he writes about, falls from a sixth-floor window: “was cleaning it for some reason, although apparently it wasn’t his. And at night.”, the editor of the newspaper comments.

Recently, I was reminded of this obscure plot in a somewhat surprising setting: as an avid listener to pretty much all Nature podcasts, I also follow Backchat, a monthly podcast produced by the Nature team, where they discuss some behind-the-scenes of various stories. One of the things I have found most fascinating is how (or rather when) some of the stories are written. Yes, you guessed it: they’re often written before they happen! Continue reading

InstaScience: a visual exploration of #ThisScientificLife

You may have noticed that the frequency of posts on this has gradually declined over the last year or so. In part, this is because I’m not sure that the various forms of social media I follow (twitter and blogs mainly) have upheld the promise of democratization, “getting your voice heard” and hearing other people’s voices the way I had hoped they would. Continue reading

Nerdy, happy things: names in science

A friend once described the TV show The Big Bang Theory as “it’s so nerdy you feel kind of dirty for understanding the jokes”. I know where he’s coming from, but sometimes it’s these little nerdy things and insider jokes that show the real soul of scientist (sometimes weird and twisted, sometimes funny, sometimes touching and sentimental…). Particularly good examples are scientific names of substances, methods or species. And so, just to start my 2016 blogging year on a happy note, I’d like to showcase some of my favourites  🙂 Continue reading

The Future of Online Content in Science?

Last month I attended my first ever unconference about the Future of Content. It was a great meeting about various forms of online media, from blogging to podcasting to infographics. The meeting wasn’t aimed at researchers and/or science communicators at all, but there seemed to be a lot of parallels between issues in the media world and issues in the science world. Intriguingly, the media world seems to have come up with a lot of cool ideas to tackle some of these issues, so thought I’d share a couple of these* here. Continue reading

Why we should get rid of poster prizes at conferences

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Picture by ebbandflowphotography via flickr.

It’s that time of year again. Last week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for this years’ Academy Awards. Filmmakers and filmlovers (well, and also critics, fashonistas and gossip columnists) are on the edge of their seats: Who will win the Oscars this year? And as we wait for March 2nd – what better time to discuss awards of a different kind: poster prizes at conferences?

Poster prizes are a regular feature at many conferences. Poster prizes are usually either a moderately large sum of money (e.g. enough to go to a conference), or maybe a year-long subscription to a journal, or some gadget, like an iPod, which are awarded to the person (or people) who have the most interesting and well-presented poster. A small jury, consisting of established senior scientists, selects the winning posters, and the winner gets to be in the limelight of the meeting for about 30 seconds while he/she collects the prize. Often, winners are also given a short slot to talk about the results on the poster. So, really, you might say, poster prizes are great. It’s a just reward for the work that’s been done, and it may even spark some scientific discourse, because conference attendees will discuss the poster that got awarded.

But there’s a catch: Continue reading

The long road home

This morning I was catching up with some old podcasts from Science, and came across a report by John Bohannon, about scientists in Turkey. The report discusses how the country is trying to “attract expat Turkish scientists back home“, and Bohannon also makes the statement that “[t]he expat Turks that I have spoken to […] have plenty of criticisms of the current political environment in Turkey, but they really clearly love their homeland.“ (from the 26 July 2013 Science podcast).

This statement touched a nerve, because that’s kind of how I feel about returning to my home country, Hungary. Honestly, I’d love to go back: I love the people and the lifestyle. I think the country is full of potential (creative people with great ideas), which could give rise to amazing research if someone would tap into this goldmine. But when I think about returning I also instantly see all the problems of the academic system, which had motivated me to leave in the first place. Continue reading

Chekhov’s gun

a.k.a. applying the Russian method to scientific writing

About 150 years ago, there lived a man in Russia, whose name was Anton Chekhov. He was a doctor by training, but also happened to write some really amazing fiction (and also non-fiction, actually). Furthermore, he formulated a dramatic principle called Chekhov’s gun, which states: “remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

According to the principle of Checkov's gun you should not introduce an element into a narrative, unless it is necessary for the story to proceed.

According to the principle of Checkov’s gun you should not introduce an element into a narrative, unless it is necessary for the story to proceed. Picture courtesy of luckyfish @ flickr.

The last few weeks I have been thinking about this principle a lot, while I’ve been rewriting a paper for review. Continue reading

Woman, know thy place!

Generally, I try not get (too) involved in the whole gender bias, glass ceiling, women having to chose between family and career, etc debate, mainly because I think it’s too complex an issue to briefly discuss in a blog post. But a new Hungarian ad for a fair for women has made my blood boil, and calls for commentary. Continue reading