I was at Science Online London 2010 this weekend. This is the third year I’ve been to this conference and it is amazing to see how it has evolved over the three years. Year 1 it was very focussed on blogs, and there was a real sense of community about it. Year 2 it was very general and the programme was quite stretched. This year it was over 2 days instead of 1, and the programme designed to accommodate many more aspects of online science.
Part of me wonders if it was, in fact, too broad. We would never attempt to hold a generic ‘science’ conference, so why have we attempted to hold a generic ‘science online’ conference, encompassing research, technology, education, outreach, journalism and more? The majority of the participants had interests that crossed those online science disciplines if we might call them that, and so were, as I was, satisfied with the variety on offer. But such breadth always comes as a compromise to depth and I personally felt that some aspects were not given as much attention as they would have had in a more general conference.
The highlights for me on day 1 included Martin Rees’ talk on publishing, drawing attention to the idea that we don’t particularly need new journals, we need better journals that take full advantage of the internet to expand and develop the information associated with publications. I also enjoyed the ‘Students in the sandbox – developing professionals’ breakout session with A. J. Cann. I’m not sure I’ll be taking up the challenge of running chemistry classes online at 4chan but many of the other aspects of using FriendFeed to encourage students to develop professional-social networks (my terminology, as opposed to social-social networks) as part of a course was fascinating. ‘I’m A Scientist – Get Me Out of Here‘ was a great breakout session and has served to increase my resolve to apply to take part next year. No, I didn’t think that Shane McCracken looked like Alan Titchmarsh – well, not when I had my glasses on, anyway!
On day 2 I enjoyed ‘Turning online science into real world policy change’ by Evan Harris (but would have to disagree – I think Star Trek vs Doctor Who is very much an issue for engaging policy makers with!), David McCandless and his beautiful data visualization (but was sad to have missed Peter Murray Rust’s Green Chain Reaction), and two unconference sessions. The first saw Julia Heathcote Anderson, John Timmer, Ed Yong and Alok Jha take to the stage discussing how to reach your audience and why scientists didn’t have the popularity they seemed to have in the 19th century. I think that’s all I’ll say about that – there is a bigger blogpost coming on that topic. The second saw Eva Amsen and David Ng discussing how online can enhance communities offline and be useful for education purposes.
As with any conference, the highlights were tempered by the lowlights, and without wishing to end on a negative note, there were two sessions that I did not enjoy, both of which will likely become the subject of blogposts in their own right once I do a little more research on a couple of topics. While it doesn’t take a genius to work out which sessions I may be referring to, I’d like to think about it for a while and give a more considered view point.
Anyway, I’m knackered from my conference excursions and need to get back into the pre-semester to do lists!