Saturday, August 09, 2008

BioBarCamp wrapup

In the last two days I attended the first BioBarCamp here in the bay area in the Institute for the Future. There is a lot of micro blogging coverage of the event in FriendFeed and even some recorded video from Cameron Neylon (click on demand and pick BioBarCamp).

The meeting was fun due of the unstructured nature of the event and also because I got to meet a lot of people I knew only from blogs. Two highlights of the event were the talks by Aubrey de Grey (see notes and also Cameron's video above) and Jon Trowbridg from Google that talked about this.

There were four parallel discussions going on but I kept mostly with the open science and web tolls related talks. There are a couple of ideas that I take away from these discussions that I will mention below but in general these overlap with what Shirley already mentioned in her post.

Pragmatic steps for Open Science and web tool adoption
Kaitlin Thaney and Cameron Neylon talked about open science and data commons. Cameron in particular is making the case that we need to demand open data the same way we demand for open access to science articles. Although publishers will say that they already try ask for availability to everything required to reproduce the results the truth is that this is not really well enforced. Funding agencies should provision funds to make raw results freely available for re-use once an article is accepted for publication.

On the side of web tools for science, Ricardo Vidal (OpenWetWare), Vivek Murthy (Epernicus), Jeremy England and Mark Kaganovich (Labmeeting) discussed user adoption. Adoption rates among scientists tend to be slow and there is a large generational gap. Again here pragmatic steps need to taken to promote the usage of these tools in science. Some of the current problems include fragmentation of user base, lack of focus in tool development, too few security restrictions.

These tools should try to focus on solving a few important problems really well. Examples of these problems include finding the person in my network that might have some expertize that I need; better ways to find articles that I find relevant or to manage my lab notebook and article library, etc. To reduce the fragmentation of user base it would be great that these websites find a way to share the social graph.

Finally the question of privacy online was again revisited. The idea of having open lab notebooks that anyone can see (as in OpenWetWare) might be a bit too radical and put away users that want to try the tools without the risks associated with exposing your research online. As has been discussed elsewhere there are advantages in having electronic notebooks (easier to access, share with peers and backup) but very few people will risk having their lab notebooks freely available online. Therefore allowing for privacy should increase usage.