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Timo Hannay on Web 2.0 and science

At a recent conference on Science in the 21st Century, I was lucky to hear Nature.com's publishing director Timo Hannay talk about Web 2.0 and the future of science. He recently gave a talk at the British Library with the provocative title "Scientific Researchers and Web 2.0: Social Not Working?" The whole piece is worth reading-- it's a good overview of Web 2.0 tools and their uses in science right now-- but he concludes on a somewhat pessimistic note:

I'm optimistic about the potential of the web to greatly improve the productivity – and joy – of doing science. I also think it can help to break down barriers between disciplines, and between science and the rest of society. That's why I've devoted my recent professional life to the pursuit of turning this into a reality.

But I'm less optimistic about the inevitability of this potential being fully realised, at least in anything less than a generational timescale. For every scientist who sees it as self-evident that they should be using these tools, or promoting open information-sharing, there are dozens who just don't see the point. For every publisher or librarian who 'gets it' there are many who don't – at least not fully and not yet.

Changing behaviours and expectations is difficult at the of best times – it is too easy to overlook the hundreds of companies that fail for every one, like Facebook or Google, that changes the landscape. In a conservative establishment like science, it's harder still. In some ways science – as an continual, collaborative, global endeavour – is the ultimate wiki. But this analogy misleads people into assuming that adoption of new tools and approaches by scientists is a foregone conclusion. It's not.

iPhone and citizen science

Alexis Madrigal throws a link to the X2 Project in his post on the addition of GPS in the iPhone:

With Steve Jobs' announcement that the iPhone 3G will have geolocation built-in, plenty of people are excited about finding good restaurants near them or worried about the privacy implications....

Yet more praise

William Gunn at Synthesis describes X2 as "surprisingly interesting and engaging:"

When I read about it, it sounded interesting, but coming from futurists, I rather expected it to be all style and no substance. I was pleasantly surprised to find a substantial amount of interesting content on the site.

High praise!

Science Cheerleader and citizen scientists

I'm interviewed on Darlene Cavalier's Science Cheerleader blog.

One of the dangers of doing history of science or science studies (both of which I studied when I was in grad school, and taught before becoming a futurist) is that you end up spending time talking to your subjects. Generally, when you're an anthropologist, the people you write about don't closely read what you write about them: monographs on highland tribal manhood rituals or the semiotics of grain exchanges are hard to get through, even if you practice those things. Scientists, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of tracking down your work, and in my experience aren't shy about telling you what they think is wrong with your work.

X2 in Europe

One of the Institute for the Future's most powerful research tools is the expert workshop-- events in which a cross-section of experts spend a day brainstorming, creating maps of the future, and developing scenarios that look in depth at possible futures and our responses to them. The Institute has been organizing workshops for years, and has built up a tremendous store of both practical and tacit knowledge around them; and in addition to their being useful research tools, they're a great excuse to spend time with very interesting people.

The X2 project has been organizing workshops in Asia this spring-- I was just in Malaysia and Singapore, and we're going to Korea, China, India, and other places later this year. Now we're setting our sights on Europe.

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