Credit where credit is due

oil drop by Shereen M
Who needs coauthors?:
[Via Survival Blog for Scientists]

Young people, in tenure track positions, feel they to have to collect as many authorships as possible. Questions like “Will I be a coauthor?” and demands as “I have to be a coauthor” are part of daily conversations in science institutes.
But not only junior scientists are eager to boost their cv’s with authored papers.

Biology papers usually have large numbers of authors. It is rare to see a major paper in Nature or Science with two authors. Often modern papers are the results of collaborative research between multiple institutions. It makes it easier to get your name on a lot of papers but also makes proper assignation of credit difficult.

Credit for papers can be incredibly important and manipulation of the credit is not unheard of. Harvey Fletcher was a graduate student for Robert Millikan around 1910. Fletcher developed and designed the oil-drop experiments that measured the charge on an electron as well as investigations on Brownian motion that led to a better determination of Avogadro’s number.

Now, Fletcher could use a published paper in lieu of his Ph.D. thesis but only if he was sole author.

Millikin proposed that Fletcher be the sole author on the Brownian motion work and Millikan would be sole author on the electron charge work, even though Fletcher’s work was critical in both. Millikan knew which one would be the more important paper. As a graduate student, Fletcher really had no choice but to acquiesce to Millikan’s proposal.

Millikan published as sole author of the paper on the charge of the electron. Fletcher wrote on Avogadro’s constant. Millikan won the Nobel Prize in 1923. Although, Fletcher became the first physics student to graduate from The University of Chicago summa cum laude, he spent most of the next 38 years outside of academia, working at Bell Laboratories.

Although he did not win the Nobel Prize, he had a tremendous impact on many of the technologies that were developed in the 20th Century. At Bell Labs, he not only became ‘the father of stereophonic sound’ but was the director of the labs that developed the transistor.

What this shows is that while a true genius can not be stopped by who published what, in the scientific world, particularly in academia, the assignment of credit has huge ramifications. Almost anyone who takes physics knows about Millikan and the oil-drop experiment. Who knows about Fletcher?

These days, often the person who did the research is first author and the person who directed the research or whose lab supported the research is last. Everyone else involved in smaller amounts is in between.

But this can change. Often with 20 authors, no one ever gets to the last one when the article is referenced. The bibliography will just be ‘Smith, et al.’ So sometimes, the director of the lab will be placed as first author instead of last so everyone sees their name in the references.

So how does proper credit actually get assigned? In large measure, figuring out who designed the critical experiment, who simply provided reagents and who had critical intellectual input are all hidden from general view. This permits political pressures, such as what Millikan used on Fletcher, to determine placement, rather than actual worth.

Huge battles have been waged over where one’s name gets placed in a paper. Since this is what the world will see, it is worth it for many people to spend all their political capital to get a choice placement on a paper. A lot of scientific blood may have been spilt in order to get on a paper published in Nature.

Sometimes those in the know have an idea of proper credit but tenure committees, grant committees and other vetting bodies can have a difficult time telling just what contribution a scientist made on a paper with 40 authors.

There have been some attempts at better clarifying this, with authors making statements about who did what. Perhaps as we move away from the current model of publishing to one more digital in nature, there will be approaches to simplify this process.

In particular, there will have to be a way to assign credit for things other than just the number of publications. Scoring the impact people had on those publications, what work they actually performed and where they can be placed in the process that lead to novel scientific discoveries will become more likely, if the social media aspects of Science 2.0 comes to be appreciated.

Because every one of those aspects can be time-stamped and made accessible by using things like wikis and weblogs in ways that email will never accomplish. Openness and transparency, important aspects of successful Web 2.0 tools, will also make it possible to more accurately track the progress of creativity and innovation. Surely rewards will follow.

Will Science 2.0 make it less likely that political pressures can be used to claim credit that is not deserved? Being human, the pressures may never disappear. But Science 2.0 should make it a little more difficult to claim credit after the fact. Fletcher kept the secret of Millikan’s proposal until after he died. In those days, it was easier to control the flow of information, to hide political manipulations of the research.

Now, not as much.

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Social media sites for scientists

myScience: “social software” for scientists:
[Via O’Really? at]

myExperimentWith apologies to Jonathan Swift:

“Great sites have little sites upon their back to bite ‘em
And little sites have lesser sites, and so ad infinitum…”

So what happened was, Carole Goble asked on the myExperiment mailing list, “is there a list of scientist social networking sites”? Here is first attempt at such a list (not comprehensive), you’ll have to decide for yourself which are the great, greater, little and lesser sites.

For simplicity, I’ll break social software down into social networking, data sharing, blogging, ranking and video. These categories aren’t exclusive, as some sites do more than one of these tasks, but they help to classify the wild wild web of social software.

The sites listed here are some very useful ones to get started with scientific Web 2.0 sites. Although ‘out in the wild’, they are where the cutting edge of Open Science is taking place. Thus, they are useful touchstones for the latest innovations.

Not all really solve an urgent problem but that is the nature of Web 2.0. Start with something simple and move towards perfection. Along the way, urgent problems may get solved.

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spring by miyukiutada
A Moment of Clarity:
[Via Transparent Office]

I do my best thinking when I’m talking. That may sound funny, but it’s true. When I write, I tend to overthink the issues and get ahead of myself. But when I’m talking to another person, or better yet a group of people, I slow down and spit out what’s really essential. (I’m a solid E on the Myers-Briggs test.)

So it’s not surprising that I had a moment of clarity the other day while talking to a customer. The customer had asked me how you launch a collaborative, wiki-based community. We didn’t have a lot of time–I was late to pick up my kids from school–and I had promised him a 60-second answer. What I said was, “Look, it’s really very simple: Structure, populate, review, invite, and garden.” As soon as the words had passed my lips I thought to myself, hey, that’s pretty clear. Maybe I should write it down. And now I have.

It’s a good, and simple, way to remember how to do it. So I propose “SPRIG” as the acronym for remembering how to launch a collaborative community:
Structure the wiki up-front with stubs and links
Populate it with real content
Review what you’ve done within your core group and refine the structure as needed
Invite a few people who have relevant knowledge and relationships and will be into the idea
Garden the wiki content as things get going.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll elaborate on each of these activities. So stay tuned. And if my tone seems conversational, now you know why.

BTW, “SPRIG” may not be the world’s catchiest acronym. Maybe we could do “SPRING” playing off the first two letters of “Invite”. Any reactions or counter-suggestions?

Acronyms can be very useful. SPRIG is a good one. SocialText uses SPRING, with the N coming from ‘Ncourage.’

Whichever is used, the steps are very important, particularly the last, which is often missed. Not everyone needs to garden but it will not be a useful wiki without a gardener.

UPDATE (6:25 am): No wonder the acronyms from Transprent Office and SocialText are so similar. The author of Transparent Office, Michael Idinopulos, works for SociaText as the VP of Professional Services. I guess I should have clicked the ‘About’ link before I wrote.

It makes no difference. The acronym is as useful as ever.

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Facebook – Evil?

competition by eye of einstein
Facebook and The Future of Competition:

Last week, I discussed Facebook’s relentless evil, how that was a profound strategic error, and why the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits – for everyone, not just Facebook.

Now, that’s a pretty unorthodox argument, and I took a lot of heat for it: what is evil, anyways? Does it really have any relevance to the real world of backslapping, boardrooms, and bonuses?

After all, business exists in a kind of Nietzschean state beyond good and evil – it has to, because it’s only when we ditch the suffocating dictates of morality that we can think in terms of economically meaningful concepts, like utility, efficiency, and productivity.

Right? Wrong. The problem with failing to call evil, well, evil is simple: we can never really do good unless we’re able to judge what’s evil. And doing good is fast becoming a strategic – not just a moral – imperative.

There is a very interesting discussion going on over at Harvard Business online. It is about the very nature of companies, on whether they are good or evil.

While the terms are pejorative, the discussion is about what works best in the Information Age. Industrial Age approaches were all about gaining complete control and zero-sum games. Now, in a networked world, the most successful companies are those that make it easiest for their customers. Otherwise they will move to the one that is easier.

Creating walled sandboxes will not be as successful as open playing fields. At least if the leaders of this discussion are right.

But, truthfully, the importance is to have the conversation. While they may not be exactly right, the dialogs can get them to the right answer sooner. Sometimes being provocative can speed things up.

Here are a few more things he wrote:

It’s that, in fact, yesterday’s lumbering dinosaurs are actually smartening up faster than Facebook. Even textbook cases of pathological evil like Starbucks and Wal-Mart have decided to play the tiresome, zero-sum games of competitive strategy less and less.

What’s really going on here? There’s a massive tectonic shift rocking the economic landscape. All these players are discovering that the boardroom’s first and most important task is simply to try always and everywhere do less evil. In the dismal language of economics: as interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.


That’s really what Facebook’s mini case is all about: no amount of competitive strategy can help Facebook gain advantage – because advantage is built on putting good before evil.


As Starbucks and Wal-Mart are discovering, orthodox strategy was built for an industrial world – an equilibrium world of oligopolies, soulless “product”, and zombified “consumers”. But that’s not today’s world. Playing the games of orthodox strategy in a world whose economic fabric is being rewoven isn’t just small: the opportunity cost is never discovering newer, better approaches to strategy.

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Square One: The Knowing Doing Gap

tunnel by ThunderChild the Magnificent
Square One: The Knowing Doing Gap:
[Via Creativity Central]

Let’s go back 1999. Crown Prince Abdullah becomes the ruler of Jordan on the death of his father, King Hussein. Lance Armstrong wins first Tour de France. And most importantly Family Guy airs its pilot episode.

It’s also the year that Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton wrote The Knowing-Doing Gap. Nearly a decade later a significant number of companies have amnesia. A lot of mangers read the book. A lot of managers ignored what they learned.

Their preface does a masterful job of setting up the premise. “We wrote this book because we wanted to understand why so many managers know so much about organizational performance, say so many smart things about how to achieve performance, and work so hard, yet are trapped in firms that do so many things they know will undermine performance.”

In a nutshell: There are more and more books and articles, more training programs and seminars and more knowledge that, although valid, often had little or no impact on what managers actually did.

Nothing has really changed.


In my rubric, knowledge allows decisions to be made and actions to be taken. Data interacts with humans to gain context and become information. Information interacts with human social networks to become knowledge. While knowledge allows decisions to be made, widsom permits the correct decision to be made.

Knowledge, by itself, does not guarantee that the decision will be the correct one. It does permit a decision to be made, even if the decision is to collect more data. Wisdom often requires several false starts to be taken before the right path can be found. In many settings, groups actually learn more from their mistakes than from a success.


If you want to dig a little deeper, here are a few lines in an interview that Pheffer did with Fast Company

“If companies genuinely want to move from knowing to doing, they need to build a forgiveness framework — a tolerance for error and failure — into their culture. A company that wants you to come up with a smart idea, implement that idea quickly, and learn in the process has to be willing to cut you some slack. You need to be able to try things, even if you think that you might fail.

The absolute opposite mind-set is one that appears to be enjoying a lot of favor at the moment: the notion that we have to hold people accountable for their performance. Companies today are holding their employees accountable — not only for trying and learning new things, but also for the results of their actions. If you want to see how that mind-set affects performance, compare the ways that American Airlines and Southwest Airlines approach accountability — and then compare those two airlines’ performances.

American Airlines has decided to emphasize accountability, right down to the departmental — and even the individual — level. If a plane is late, American wants to know whose fault it is. So if a plane is late, what do American employees do? They spend all of their time making sure that they don’t get blamed for it. And while everyone is busy covering up, no one is thinking about the customer.

Southwest Airlines has a system for covering late arrivals: It’s called “team delay.” Southwest doesn’t worry too much about accountability; it isn’t interested in pinning blame. The company is interested only in getting the plane in the air and in learning how to prevent delays from happening in the future.

Now ask yourself this: If you’re going to be held accountable for every mistake that you make, how many chances are you going to take? How eager are you going to be to convert your ideas into actions?

So the final point from Square One is that a learning culture driven by creativity and innovation must allow mistakes to be made. The goal of mistakes is to learn from them, not to assign blame. People must be recognized for the attempt, not always for the solution.

One of the strong points of Web 2.0 tools is that they create much more openness and transparency. This makes it much easier to tell identify someone who pushes the envelope in order to help create knowledge that is useful to the organization. If the only way to succeed is never to fail, then the organization will eventually find itself with only followers and no leaders in creativity.

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Innovation as a job

golf ball by makelessnoise
Innovation Development:
[Via InnoCentive]
This site uses new tools to solve problems. It essentially acts as a broker between organizations that need problems solved and the large external community that may be able to find a solution.

The rewards can be pretty substantial if someone can become a successful solver. The site not only has problems in specific areas, but there are pavilions sponsored by single entities for directed solutions. The Rockefeller Foundation Accelerating Innovation for Development is one such organization.

So the possibility exists that external investigators could solve internal problems, and make a reasonable living at it. It will be interesting to see if this does become a form of livelihood.

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Another interesting idea

pier by Zed.Cat
A Day Without Twitter:

Yesterday, I took the day off from Twitter. I’ve been using it fairly solidly since the early days, and wanted to get a feel for what I was counting on Twitter to do for me. The results were interesting:

  • I count on Twitter for group answers. A LOT. For instance, I needed to know who from the social media scene was in Detroit. I ended up using LinkedIn, but I know that means I missed a bunch of folks.
  • I count on Twitter as a way to express quick, random thoughts, or to mention references to cultural items to which I know people will respond. (For instance, I like tweeting parts of song lyrics, because it’s fun when people pick the song up as a reply).
  • I use Twitter to promote other people. While I was dark, I got no less than 14 requests to promote fundraising causes, and 12 general promotion requests.
  • I use Twitter to promote myself, my blog, things I’m doing.

A day without Twitter didn’t give me more time to write. It gave me fewer distractions, but I don’t sit around and LABOR on Twitter when I write something. Often times, I can just jot something from my mobile in between meetings, or I pop the window open, reply to a few folks, and then go back to my work. Meaning, I don’t find Twitter to be a time suck to me.

I’m wondering if I should try my “a day without” on other services, like email, or my BlackBerry.

Have you tried things like this? What would you lose if you didn’t have Twitter?

‘Going without’ for a day is a nice way to see how a tool helps or how it does not help. Twitter certainly has some important uses in a general social network, particularly by keeping in touch with a wide group of people.

Many networks are made up of weak ties to a large group of people. Twitter helps maintain these weak ties, keeping the network functional. LinkedIn serves a similar function. Research has shown that the ability to activate weak ties when needed is a critical aspect of a working social network. It is also where many innovative ideas come from.

So, Twitter may have its uses. I’m just not sure I see where it would fall inside an organization. It seems like much more a personal network enhancer.

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More on Twitter

birdsby krisdecurtis
Why Twitter Matters:
[Via Business week]

It’s easy to laugh at nonsense on Twitter, the microblogging rage. “My nose is leaking,”writes someone called Zapples, “so imma go to sleep now.…” But I’ve heard lots of similar drivel (and even produced some myself) on the phone—an important technology if there ever was one.

The key question today isn’t what’s dumb on Twitter, but instead how a service with bite-size messages topping out at 140 characters can be smart, useful, maybe even necessary. Here’s why I’m looking. In the last few months, the traffic on Twitter has exploded, growing far beyond its circles of bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts and hard-core social networkers.

Businesses such as H&R Block (HRB) and Zappos are now using Twitter to respond to customer queries. Market researchers look to it to scope out minute-by-minute trends. Media groups are focusing on Twitterers as first-to-the-scene reporters. (They were on top of the May 12 China earthquake within minutes.) Loads of new applications and services are growing around the Twitter platform, leading some to suggest that the microblogging service could become a powerhouse in social media.


Lots of information in here about Twitter. I’m not sure how effective it might be in a research organization but then it was hard to see 6 years ago how a wiki might be useful.

This is definitely something to keep an eye on. One of the interesting aspects is its almost instant access to experts. Think of it as just-in-time answers. Beth Kanter discussed an interesting experiment she performed.

She wondered if Twitter or Google was faster at retrieving facts. She wanted to know the atomic number for radium. She twittered the questions and as she turned to her keyboard to Google it, she got 5 responses from her twitter friends.

So Twitter can be used to get simple answers rapidly. However, as the comments displayed, not all questions are equal and many will not get an answer. I’m more curious about finding answers to more difficult questions.

One of the really nice qualities of a  research library is that the librarians are very good at finding such answers. What if there was a Twitter group that was designed to help answers that were in immediately searchable on Google. Would that work better than trying to do it by yourself?

Have to think about it.

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Big or small

dice by ThunderChild the Magnificent

Social Software: Freestanding or Layered?:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

Had an interesting phone interview the other day, and we got into the topic above, which I found interesting.

We both agreed that we were going to see far more social software in the enterprise in the coming years.  The question was more about architecture — would these software packages be purchased and deployed as free-standing entities, or would they be thought more in terms of a “layer” over something else already in the enterprise.

And, if you’re aspiring to be a social media proficiency practitioner (as I am) — or a vendor that’s selling to people like me — the answer might matter to you.

Enterprise Buying Patterns

If you listen to software vendors who are trying to sell in the enterprise, they’ll usually make it sound like all sorts of large, important companies are buying their software.

However, if you dig down a bit, the truth is more usually that some group or another within that large organization made a purchasing decision. It wasn’t what I’d call a corporate decision.

As an example, let’s take SAP — a large, enterprise ERP platform.  No single group or department within a corporation will go out and deploy SAP — it just doesn’t make sense.  100% of their customers are probably “corporate decisions” rather than “group decisions” within a large company.

To take the opposite to an extreme, I happen to use SanDisk USB memory sticks.  Does that mean that EMC Corporation – a Fortune 500 company!! — uses SanDisk USB memory sticks?  Technically yes, but I think you get my point.

Why does this matter for social software?

Because I think there’s a big difference between some engineering group putting in a wiki for their team, and a large corporation making a strategic decision for all their employees.  Trust me, the buying criteria will be very, very different.

If I’m selling to a small group, I’d want an offering that’s focused on price, ease of installation, price, ease of management, price — and maybe price.

If I’m selling to a large enterprise, though, the list is very different.  If I’m a large enterprise, I’ve already made many, many investments in existing infrastructure software.I want my new social software to work with everything I have — not as another free-standing entity, but as a “layer”.

And I’ll pay extra for that capability.


An interesting discussion of the needs of a large company vs. a small company. The large company wants something that will act as a social layer over what it already has. It will not want to reinvest in calendaring, directories, etc.To a certain extent, this is software lock-in. The choices of the company are limited by what others have decided to add on to previously purchased software. It is certainly a way to go but will reduce the types of tools the users can access.

As an example, if a company waits until Microsoft provides a social layer over Outlook, it could be a while. Even if a third company provided this solution, its updates may not be timely, hurting the company’s competitiveness against companies that can utilize new software more rapidly. They are tied to the develop cycle of the vendor, not the technology.

Web 2.0 technologies can change very fast. Twitter was hardly anywhere 6 months ago. Now it is being used by millions. So there is a trap for large organizations, especially ones on the innovation train.

Also, the tools need to meet the needs of the users to be successful.

That is one thing not addressed in the post. People will really only take advantage of these tools if it makes their work flow easier. A group at the company may need and utilize Web 2.0 tools in a very different fashion than others in the company. How does the company deal with this?

Trying to use a tool that may be ‘best’ for the needs of HR may not mean Research is happy. The best tools may be the ones that resemble Swiss Army knives, with multiple attachments, than simply a layer over Outlook. They may need to be almost infinitely customizable.

I do agree that the user needs to have a single point of entry to the social web. But there has to be a recognition that new tools are being developed and that they may have to be implemented someday. A real worry should be that a large enterprise may not be as nimble with the successful recognition of vital new tools. This flattens the playing field with those companies that can utilize the new tools.

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How podcasts work


Video: Podcasting in Plain English | Common Craft – Explanations In Plain English:
[Via Common Craft]

These videos are always worth watching and do a wonderful job explaining how many Web 2.0 tools work. The videos can be downloaded and embedded into intranet pages for employees, allowing them to better understand the technologies.

The fact that these videos use such a low tech approach to teaching about high tech tools make them very original and eye-catching.

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