Post Tagged with: "Rudy Baum"

How Can Science Embrace Web 2.0: A Response to Rudy Baum

(This post is in response to the May 10 editorial in C&E News.  For the response to the April 19 editorial, click here)

First, I want to thank Rudy Baum, editor-in-chief of C&E News, for taking the time to respond to my commentary.  I know he probably has other issues he’d rather talk about on his editorial page, and I appreciate the engagement in this dialogue.

I’d like to continue the dialogue here and I hope to keep this conversation going – at least informally – for a long time.

Mr. Baum and I seem to agree that Web 2.0 is a part of science now; however, we may disagree on the merits of SciW2.0.  If you don’t believe SciW2.0 has arrived, consider that the fact that you are even privy to this conversation.  Not only do I have a W2.0 platform upon which I can comment on C&E News editorials, but within days the comments were populated with a who’s who of SciW2.0 leaders offering their opinions and helping shape the conversation.  And the conversation became so loud that it prompted an editor-in-chief to write an entire editorial in response to, essentially, a nobody in the chemistry world (let’s face it.  I certainly don’t count myself in the elite of chemistry, blind or not).  That all of these things can happen within a month – and without any face-to-face meetings between any of the players – proves the establishment of SciW2.0 as a communication tool.

Now, before we continue, I want to re-link to this blog post on Nature‘s Nascent blog.  In my opinion, this post is a must read for anyone who wants to engage this discussion.  It is a nice overview of SciW2.0, its strengths and especially its weaknesses.  Why there’s resistance to SciW2.0, why academic and industry leaders aren’t all buying in, and why he’s committed to making SciW2.0 successful.  It really is mandatory, and I’ll wait for you to click over and read it now.

(lounge music break) 🙂

While severely cautioning people about SciW2.0 (but not denouncing), Baum seems to want to walk a fine line.  It’s dangerous, it’s not a panacea, he reads blogs, he’s not an opponent of all W2.0, he agrees with author Jaron Lanier when he warns scientists not to adopt W2.0 ideals, and he finds proponents of W2.0 overenthusiastic.  Perhaps he is just cautioning scientists against ‘irrational exuberance’ when it comes to buying in to SciW2.0.  And those warnings would be well heeded (although I doubt we’re anywhere near the irrationally exuberant days of SciW2.0).  My question for Baum is: if he doesn’t think SciW2.0 is a panacea, does he think the current model for scientific communication (peer-reviewed journals) is a utopia?  And if not, what would he suggest happen differently?

As to his comment about the panacea of W2.0 and how it ‘changes everything’ as he says W2.0 proponents adamantly claim, I suspect he’s referring to Don Tapscott’s and Anthony Williams’ book Wikinomic: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.  I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment on it.  But I would imagine, as is true in other areas of life, when people mention ‘everything,’ they rarely mean things like cutting edge academic and scientific research.  Rather, I imagine people mean ‘everyday things,’ usually for everyday people.  I’ll link here to notes by Will Richardson on W2.0 and how it’s changing politics, government, journalism, and business, and how it is starting to change education.  So while it seems to be changing certain industries, I’ll admit that it’s not changing everything.  In fact, I don’t think any of the commenters on the other post thought so, either.  Pop science is not the same as pop culture and does not think the same way.  Comments made in one arena are not necessarily transferable to the other arena.

But rather than getting into a hair-splitting contest over who used what words and who meant what, I propose to move the conversation forward in a different direction.  My open question: What should SciW2.0 look like, and how will we know it’s successful?

W2.0 is ultimately a communication tool.  It harnesses the power and dexterity of the internet and allows people to communicate with each other in ways never before possible and on timescales never before possible.  In certain circles (politics, pop culture), if you’re not actively following the W2.0 scene, you’re way behind and have nothing to bring to the table.  Not so in SciW2.0.  If you’re following SciW2.0, you’re reading about and reacting to people’s analysis of things that happened in the past.  Missing a week or two won’t put you behind, because by and large you’ve already read the same papers and seen the same announcements.

I doubt that SciW2.0 will become an instant data/paper communicating tool for hard science anytime soon the way it has in other aspects of life.  I agree with the reasoning by Timo Hannay in the Nascent link:

[E]ven if the direct financial cost of sharing this information is low, the cost in terms of scooped findings, rejected papers and grant applications, and perhaps even diminished reputation could be very high. … It’s sad, but most scientists don’t publish in order to share results with their peers, they do so in order to secure grant funding and promotions. We know this because when we provide ways of sharing information that do not affect their likelihood of getting funding or promotions – such as preprint servers for biologists – most don’t use them.

There will always be a place for reactionary SciW2.0.  Communities of people talking about science and sharing ideas and information cannot hurt anyone.  But because there’s rarely breaking news coverage on SciW2.0 (see Totally Synthetic’s sodium hydride oxidation post for an example of breaking news coverage), the majority of chemists don’t seem to find the need to tune in regularly.

Before we’ll get large numbers of people on board, in my opinion, might we need to make SciW2.0 less reactionary and more innovative?   I think we’ve started seeing bits and pieces of that scattered throughout, and that might be how we make it more appealing to the science community at large.  I mentioned in the comments previously that ACS had their NanoTube contest, which asked users to upload original videos explaining ‘What is Nano’ in an clear and entertaining way.  Perhaps this is the way science utilizes W2.0 in a productive manner.  Demystifying aspects of science to make it accessible to anyone curious about science, but perhaps without the training.

But, as the Nascent link alludes to, other types of crowd sourcing have not been as successful.  Nature‘s open peer-review system posted a small number of ‘opt in’ papers online and asked the crowd to review and comment on them before being accepted to the journal.  The open peer-review process happened concurrently with the ‘typical’ closed, anonymous peer-review process.  As noted if you listen to the audio version of the talk, it added no apparent value, but a lot more work for the Nature folks, so they abandoned the experiment.  I suspect it was just ahead of its time.

We may look to the results of a current crowd sourcing experiment to see if the time is right yet.  The Haystack, one of CENtral Science’s child blogs, reports on the expansion of the Pool for Open Innovation against Neglected Tropical Diseases.  In this experiment, scientists dump patented information into an open pool, and different users around the world are able to access the data to try to make progress on treatments for neglected diseases.  It will be interesting to watch that story unfold over the next few years.

I guess I don’t really know what SciW2.0 needs to look like to be successful. … But I bet I know a way to get some of the brightest minds in the field together to think about it communally! 🙂  I’d love to hear from people what their ideas are for the future of SciW2.0 and how to make it more commonplace in the field.

Finally, I’d like to say to Baum (and everyone else reading), if you haven’t read Who Moved My Cheese?, then pick it up from the library on the way home tonight and read it.  It will take maybe an hour, and it can be read in the easy chair after dinner while watching 24 if you’d like.  The cheese is moving, Rudy, I just don’t know where to, yet.

By May 10, 2010 8 comments chem 2.0, opinion

ACS Member Dues

It is that time of the year for me when I need to dole out the cash to renew my ACS membership. For the first time I have to pay the full membership price of $145. The process is made more complicated than usual since I need to switch from the graduate student member rate to the full member rate and there is no button available to do it from the website. :sigh:

So with member dues on the brain I went to investigate why they are set at $145. In 1986 the dues were $70 and it was decided to set all future dues to that inflation corrected price. $145 may seem like a lot of money but the ACS Committee on Budget and Finance’s website points out that it is a very middle of the road amount when compared to other scientific societies.

Membership Societies Dues Members
American Institute of Chemical Engineers $199 40,000
American Association of Clinical Chemistry $185 10,000
Association for Psychological Science $179 20,000
IEEE $169 375,000
Royal Society of Chemistry $160 46,000
American Association for the Advancement of Science $146 120,000
American Chemical Society $140 154,000
American Society for Biology and Molecular Biology $140 12,000
American Nuclear Society $140 11,000
Society of Plastics Engineers $140 20,000
American Physiological Society $130 10,500
American Physical Society $118 46,000
American Ceramics Society $110 6,000
Geological Society of America $70 22,000



However, that is not a fair comparison to make. Whenever the topic of executive compensation comes up at ACS we’re always reminded that ACS is a huge publishing house connected to a nonprofit, thus salaries and benefits of the top executives are matched to norms in the publishing industry. In one case it is fair to compare something to scientific society norms, in the other case we have to include the norms of a publishing house.

Out of my own curiosity I dug into the numbers behind member dues and have found that total dues were $15,500,000 and brought in $2,200,000 in net revenue for 2009. So how much does the society make per year? Do we make enough as a society to forgo paying dues into 3 digits? Below is a table showing the finances of the society, I’ve also included the income payed out to the top executives for comparison

Name / Gross Income 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Madeline Jacobs $936,827 $849,348 $889,720 $883,818
Flint H. Lewis $363,406 $301,084 $285,271 $273,730
Brian A Bernstein $423,540 $345,076 $347,163 $324,360
Robert J Massie $1,038,836 $1,826,527 $792,030
Brian D Crawford $590,612 $416,940 $401,004
John R Sullivan $392,088
Matthew J Toussant $451,665 $357,233
Brian C Bergner $411,411
Benjamin W Jones $397,395
Peter E Roche $364,055 $577,185 347,935
Rudy M Baum $359,703
Robert D Bovenschulte $1,229,387 $620,360 $617,030
James A Bryne $425,473 $410,407
David Daniel $333,830
Sylvia A Ware $433,678
ACS Finances
Total Revenue $460,000,000 $458,800,000 $442,200,000
Net Revenue $13,700,000 $9,700,000 $9,600,000
Net Assets (unrestricted) $123,900,000 $60,000,000 $212,000,000 $281,000,000 $211,000,000



The society made enough net revenue in 2009 to easily refund 1/3 of our member dues, but it would never do that as I’ll explain. If you look at the table and try to match the society’s executive incomes to performance you will have a hard time, if you can see a pattern please let me know. In 2008 as the society’s net assets decreased in value by 72% the income of the executives increased. As the total revenue of the society brought in slowly increased, the executive income increased faster. As the net revenue of the society has remained flat, besides the small peak in 2009, the executive income increased. So how exactly is the salary and benefits of the top executives valued, it seems disconnected from normal metrics of financial health?

The society will hire an outside firm to decide what the compensation should be. The firm will take into consideration that ACS is a publishing house and a non-profit. The firm will also consider the health of the global economy and other factors and will set certain benchmarks for the executives to meet in order to get bonuses on top of their paychecks. So the reason their income seems decoupled from performance is because the benchmarks they must meet are already coupled to the passions and whims of the national economy.

I will argue that this road for ACS is unhealthy.

If I ask any top executive at ACS what their job is, I’m sure they will tell me that their job is to return as much value back to ACS members while generating as much revenue they can for the society. The society will indirectly self-select individuals that can maximize that function. But this leads to the horrible disease of group-thinking. I have no doubt that Rudy Baum actually dislikes open-access, but I also have no doubt that ACS has indirectly placed people in positions of influence who will maximize the function of revenue vs. value.

I have faith that the net revenues made by the society for 2009 will be used for a good purpose. Maybe it’ll be put towards shoring up the losses in net assets, maybe it’ll be used to make the budget for next year more affordable. However, I do know it will never be given back to members as a rebate on their membership dues. A rebate would be considered an expense and would decrease net revenue the society made the following year and thus decrease bonuses.

There is no clear answer to what would make my favorite chemistry club healthier and more affordable, but the current tethering of compensation and salaries to the same wonderful metrics that financial institutions use seems illogical.

Mitch

By April 22, 2010 11 comments Uncategorized

Is Chemistry Incompatible with Web 2.0?

(This post is in response to the April 19 editorial in C&E News.  For the response to the May 10 editorial, click here)

A recent ChemJobber post notes that C&E News Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum‘s editorials sometimes have a tendency to approach the controversial – and sometimes the purely political.  I wanted to discuss this weeks editorial which threatens to call into question much of my online existence (sorry, Mitch.  If Rudy’s right, I think you’re about to spontaneously e-implode).

In this week’s editorial, “The Limits of Web 2.0,” Baum decries the cliché “information wants to be free” for both its out-of-context usage (the full quote says information wants to be expensive because it is valuable and free because the cost of information dissemination is shrinking almost hourly – thus a struggle) and for its lunacy (information can’t wish for anything – it’s inanimate).  Rather, Baum says that it’s people who wish that information would be free.  I’d amend Baum’s correction slightly.  People really want information to be free and readily accessible.  I’d argue public libraries have long made most information “free,” if you were willing to do the legwork to get it.

But the bulk of Baum’s editorial promotes Jaron Lanier’s book You are Not a Gadget: A Manefesto, and summarizes Lanier’s main points, namely that the wisdom of crowds can be dangerous and science should be loath to adopt web 2.0 ideals.  Lanier points out that around the turn of century, a “torrent (a word hijacked by the web 2.0 crowd -ed.) of petty designs sometimes called web 2.0″ flooded the web.  And through the use of web 2.0, we apparently are losing sight of the trees for the forest, er, the taggers for the cloud.

Baum writes in his editorial (cross-posted for free on the web 2.0 CENtral Science blog, natch), “The essence of what Lanier is saying is that individuals are important and that we’re losing sight of that at our own peril in elevating the wisdom of the crowd to a higher plane than the creativity of a single person.”  That is, we are valuing the cloud more than the individuals, when the cloud can’t exist – and has no meaning – without the existence of the individuals.  Lanier notes that collective intelligence can be used well, but only when guided by individuals who can direct the course of the hive mind and help steer clear of common groupthink pitfalls.

But the most interesting quote comes near then end, when Baum quotes Lanier as saying that scientific communities “achieve quality through a cooperative process that includes checks and balances, and ultimately rests on a foundation of goodwill and ‘blind’ elitism.”  I’m not really sure what that means…

But to Lanier’s thesis that science ought to be wary of embracing web 2.0 and its ideals, I find it interesting that Baum writes his editorial at C&E News, the magazine of the ACS, whose flagship publication, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, has featured a JACSβ page for some time now.  The same C&E News whose blog has become so popular that it had to split off into several child blogs.  Where each post for each ACS article has links to share the article on one of several social networking sites.  Where scientists can now browse their favorite article on their iphones with ACSMobile.  While perhaps late to the party in some areas, the American Chemical Society has certainly ‘logged on’ to web 2.0 as a way to export content to the web-savvy scientist.

Plus, we have our own Mitch, a one man walking encapsulation of web 2.0.  His most successful application is, in my opinion, the chemical forums, which typically sees between 8,000 and 11,000 visitors per day.  This blog seems to be a big hit, and his ChemFeeds is a one-stop source for your aggregated list of your favorite journals’ graphical abstracts.  All this innovation on Mitch’s part earned him an interview with David Bradley (of ScienceBase) in his chemistry WebMagazine, Reactive Reports.

There’s also the Chemistry Reddit as another outlet of chemistry news and notes.

In the inaugural issue of Nature Chemistry, the Nature Publishing Group recounted how they have completely bought into web 2.0 as a means of science communication – each issue of Nature Chemistry even features a roundup of their favorite posts from the chemical blogosphere (which reminds me, to the left, Mitch has also created an aggregated rss feed of several popular chemistry blogs).

And, of course, web 2.0 in the sciences has been discussed in the blogs several times over the years.  We have over 3 pages of posts categorized Web 2.0, mostly Mitch’s posts on new web 2.0 platforms he’s developed.  Jean-Claude Bradley writes about web 2.0 in response to a very interesting post at Nascent, a blog from the folks at Nature.

So, all of these prove that web 2.0 has been talked about many times in the context of science.  Has it worked?  With the exception of blogs, sadly I’m inclined to say no.  At least not yet.  And even with blogs (with the possible exception of All Things Metathesis, and In the Pipeline, though Derek isn’t allowed to talk about his work b/c of intellectual property issues), not a lot of academic or industry leaders are prone to blogging.  It’s not like we’re reading Phil Baran’s blog and getting inside his head on a daily basis.

Sure, there is a subculture of people who are active on the web 2.0 scene, but it surely hasn’t taken off as a medium for all chemists to enjoy.  It theoretically should.  Chemists are always benefited from communal sharing of results and information.  But there are still (and probably always will be) people who seem reluctant to join the new technological paradigm.  I like the way Timo Hannay words it in his post on Nascent,

“But it’s not up to the doubters to ‘get it’, it is up to those of us who support these developments to demonstrate their value. And if we can’t then they don’t deserve to be adopted and we don’t deserve to be heard.”

Especially if there are people at the position of Editor-in-Chief for arguably the top chemistry magazine denouncing the web 2.0 movement, clearly it has a ways to go before it will be appreciated by all to the point where web 2.0 is ‘taken for granted,’ where we don’t even realize what we’re doing when we post results and opinions via web 2.0 technologies.

Let’s get moving!