17 January 2010

#scio10 day three: In which the discussion of online civility remains (almost) entirely civil

Sunday morning, the final sessions of Science Online 2010 seemed almost planned to tie together the broad theme of the conference – how best to connect science (and working scientists) with the rest of society.

Broader impact done right: A heavily marine-themed panel – Karen James of the Beagle Project, Deep Sea blogger Kevin Zelnio, Miriam Goldstein of the Oyster's Garter, the New England Aquarium's Jeff Ives and NASA's Beth Beck – discussed a wide range of science outreach options available, mostly from the perspective of working scientists.

A consensus emerged that good outreach, of which online resources are now usually a part, is essential to basic research, and will be increasingly important in obtaining funding. Funnily enough, my collaborator Chris Smith had just e-mailed me about the possibility of bringing a satellite broadband connection with us for the upcoming field season – maybe we'll be live-blogging Joshua tree research this year.

Article-level metrics: Peter Binfield, the managing editor of PLoS ONE, discussed the ways in which PLoS is now measuring the impact of individual articles published through its online, open-access journals – not just citation counts, but also pageviews, PDF download rates, and the recent collaboration with ResearchBlogging.org to track blog coverage. It's clear that research articles aren't going to be judged by the impact factor of their containing journals anymore, now that you get a citation count with every Google Scholar search, and it'll be interesting to see what scheme emerges as global standard for article-level impact.

Online civility: Science bloggers Janet "Dr. Freeride" Stemwedel, Sheril Kirshenbaum, and the pseudonomous Dr. Isis led discussion about what constitutes civil behavior in an online setting – and the conversation turned into something of an object lesson, as disagreement over the meaning of civility itself turned, well, very nearly un-civil. The panel did, I thought, an admirable job demonstrating in "real life" the skills necessary for online moderation of touchy discussions.

I wouldn't say there was consensus, but the room did seem to come together around the ideas that communities define their own standards of civility, that those very standards can make it difficult to express minority or dissenting points of view, and that (judicious) incivility can be useful for minorities trying to be heard. Dave Munger made that last point, and I hope my paraphrase does it justice – I think it's an important one. Certainly it's the case that sexual minorities have been (and still are – I'm looking at you, Mennonite Church USA) told that merely acknowledging our existence and discussing our perspective is a violation of civility, inasmuch as "civil" is equivalent to "suitable for general audiences." It was a great discussion, and I'm still processing it – it might be worth a dedicated post in the near future.

So now I'm sitting in the Raleigh-Durham airport, writing up the weekend over dodgy, overpriced WiFi – I've been badly spoiled by SignalShare's fantastic service. Many, many thanks to organizers Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, and to the sponsors, who put on a fantastic conference – and especially to NESCent, who made it possible for me to attend. It was a great time!

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