Category Archives: Non-Profits

Marketing for research

atomium by txd
Attention, science and money:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

Interesting observation by Kevin Kelly. He says

Where ever attention flows, money will follow

To some extent, that’s somewhat obvious. Peter Drucker, whom I admire a lot, said the following

Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs

Part of the problem with many corporations that commercialize science and technology is that they only focus on the marketing and not the innovation. I remember being told by a higher up that marketing made money – For every dollar we spend on Marketing, we get $3 back. But he told me that research cost money, money that was never directly recouped.

There are good metrics for marketing, not so much for innovation. Yet without the latter the former has nothing to do.

Attention can be driven by many mechanisms, marketing being the most effective one. The key is gaining sufficient mindshare, which is often accompanies by a flow of capital. In science, the money follows topics of research that have mindshare. Similarly people fund companies in areas that generate mindshare for whatever reason.

The question I often ask myself, both from my time as a marketer and as someone interested in science communication, is how can we bring more mindshare to some of our efforts and science in general. What does money flow mean? Is it just research funding? Is it investment in such concepts as “bursty work”? Take something else Kelly writes

New things that don’t work or serve no purpose are quickly weeded out of the system. But the fact that something does work or is helpful is no longer sufficient for success.

Part of the problem is that many researchers feel the data should speak for itself. They fail to realize that gaining mindshare or convincing people requires social interactions. It is a very rare thing that requires no further work in order to sell itself.

We all realize that nothing in science is this way. That is, when we deal with each other, we realize that further experimentation is required to convince us of a new innovation. Few things just emerge from Zeus’ head. we know the process to market to our peers – publications, conferences and seminars.

But the idea of doing something similar to get innovations out to non-scientists is not on an researcher’s radar screen. We don’t have enough time for that. Perhaps just a recognition that there is a process people go through to adopt an innovation and the attempt to facilitate some of those steps would go a long way.

I have written about the lack of marketing in science (stealing shamelessly from Larry Page). It’s critical that we do a better job of highlighting the power of our activities and learn some marketing tricks along the way. No I am not talking about the in your face stuff that gives marketing a bad name, but about the kinds of activities that maintain that attention, and get people to notice. The good news, many of us already do that, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s still niche awareness, but I have a feeling that we are close to actually crossing the hump and bringing some of our activities into the mainstream.

KK link via Michael Nielsen

Marketing is really just convincing people to make a change in their life, to adopt an innovation. It may have a bad odor in science (because ads make people want things that they do not really need) but marketing is really what everyone does who truly wants to compete for mindshare.

We just need to do it in a way that supports research while helping others through the process of adopting innovations.

Technorati Tags: ,

An Announcement

spirals by hendriko
All the details have been finalized for a three hour seminar SpreadingScience is sponsoring entitled

Transformed! Information, Bioscience and Web 2.0

October 7, 2008 6-9 PM
Lake Washington Rowing Club
910 N. Northlake Way
Seattle WA

The seminar will be given by Richard Gayle, Ph.D. and Mark Minie, Ph.D. It is geared for a general audience that includes researchers, lawyers, clinicians and anyone else interested in using modern technology to solve today’s problems. It will have three segments:

  1. The Transformation of Information into Knowledge
    Knowledge is the ability to make a decision, to perform an action. The knowledge creation cycle begins with data. Human social interactions transform data into knowledge. Social networks evolved to provide primates with diverse solutions to complex problems. However, there appear to be hardwired barriers to the size of these social networks, limiting the scope and complexities of the problems that can be solved. The huge amount of information being generated overwhelms these barriers. The difficult problems facing us today are too complex to be solved only the tools we evolved. We must use new digital tools to amplify our inherent abilities.
  2. The Transformation of Bioscience by Information
    Biology is now a branch of Information Science, and important new research, discovery and invention is taking place on the World Wide Web. From computer gaming/education to personal genomics, biological engineering and robotics, bioscience is undergoing a true renaissance with previously unexpected impact and dividends. This segment will explore bioscience’s new life on the Internet. It will focus on specific examples and new tools with potential practical uses for both scientists and non-scientists alike.
  3. The Web 2.0 Transformation
    Web 2.0 is about online conversations. These tools often remove the need for people to occupy the same space at the same time in order to transform information into knowledge. They permit the examination and understanding of human social networks many times larger than our hardwired limits. This enhances the ability to create knowledge and to increase the rate of diffusion of information in an organization. Communities that can use Web 2.0 tools to leverage human social networks will solve complex problems more rapidly than those that do not.

There is a glut of data in the world today. Our normal processes to deal with this glut – the interactions in a human social network – are overwhelmed. However, the same technologies that are permitting such huge amount of data to be created can also help us enhance our social network interactions, providing organizations with the possibility of solving much more complex problems than before.


Please join us on October 7 as we provide a foundation for understanding how Bioscience is being transformed by information and how we can use novel tools to leverage this transformation into critical solutions .

Until September 23, the cost is $175. After that date it rises to $225. So register early!

Technorati Tags: ,

Missing the point?

pendulum by sylvar

It has been about a month since Science published
Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship by James Evans. I’ve waited some time to comment because the results were somewhat nonintuitive, leading to some deeper thinking.

The results seem to indicate that greater access to online journals results in fewer citations. The reasons for this are causing some discussion. Part of what I wlll maintain is that papers from 15 years ago were loaded with references for two reasons that are no longer relevant today: to demonstrate how hard the author had worked to find relevant information and to help the reader in their searches for information.

Finding information today is too easy for there to be as great a need to include a multitude of similar references.

Many people feel the opposite, that the ease in finding references, via such sites as PubMed, would result in more papers being cited not less. Bench Marks has this to say:

Evans brings up a few possibilities to explain his data. First, that the better search capabilities online have led to a streamlining of the research process, that authors of papers are better able to eliminate unrelated material, that searching online rather than browsing print “facilitates avoidance of older and less relevant literature.” The online environment better enables consensus, “If online researchers can more easily find prevailing opinion, they are more likely to follow it, leading to more citations referencing fewer articles.” The danger here, as Evans points out, is that if consensus is so easily reached and so heavily reinforced, “Findings and ideas that do not become consensus quickly will be forgotten quickly.” And that’s worrisome–we need the outliers, the iconoclasts, those willing to challenge dogma. There’s also a great wealth in the past literature that may end up being ignored, forcing researchers to repeat experiments already done, to reinvent the wheel out of ignorance of papers more than a few years old. I know from experience on the book publishing side of things that getting people to read the classic literature of a field is difficult at best. The keenest scientific minds that I know are all well-versed in the histories of their fields, going back well into the 19th century in some fields. But for most of us, it’s hard to find the time to dig that deeply, and reading a review of a review of a review is easier and more efficient in the moment. But it’s less efficient in the big picture, as not knowing what’s already been proposed and examined can mean years of redundant work.

But this is true of journals stored in library stacks, before online editions. It was such a pain to use Index Medicus or a review article (reading a review article has always been the fastest way to get up to speed. It has nothing to do with being online or not) and find the articles that were really needed. So people would include every damn one they found that was relevant. The time spent finding the reference had to have some payoff.

Also, one would just reuse citations for procedures, adding on to those already used in previous papers. The time spent tracking down those references would be paid out by continuing usage, particularly in the Introduction and Materials & Methods sections. Many times, researchers would have 4 or 5 different articles all saying the similar things or using the same technique just to provide evidence of how hard they had worked to find them (“I had to find these damned articles on PCR generated mutagenesis and I am going to make sure I get maximum usage out of them.”)

There are other possible answers for the data that do not mean that Science and Scholarship are narrowing, at least not in a negative sense. A comment at LISNews leads to one possible reason – an artifact of how the publishing world has changed.
The comment takes us to a commentary of the Evans’ article.While this is behind the subscription wall, there is this relevant paragraph:

One possible explanation for the disparate results in older citations is that Evans’s findings reflect shorter publishing times. “Say I wrote a paper in 2007” that didn’t come out for a year, says Luis Amaral, a physicist working on complex systems at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, whose findings clash with Evans’s. “This paper with a date of 2008 is citing papers from 2005, 2006.” But if the journal publishes the paper the same year it was submitted, 2007, its citations will appear more recent.

[As an aside, when did it become Evans’s rather than Evans’? I’d have gotten points of from my English teacher for that. Yet a premier journal like Science now shows that I can use it that way.]

The commentary also mentions work that appears to lead to different conclusions:

Oddly, “our studies show the opposite,” says Carol Tenopir, an information scientist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She and her statistician colleague Donald King of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have surveyed thousands of scientists over the years for their scholarly reading habits. They found that scientists are reading older articles and reading more broadly–at least one article a year from 23 different journals, compared with 13 journals in the late 1970s. In legal research, too, “people are going further back,” says Dana Neac u, head of public services at Columbia University’s Law School Library in New York City, who has studied the question.

So scientists are reading more widely and more deeply. They just do not add that reading to their reference lists. Why? Part of it might be human nature. Since it is so much easier to find relevant papers, having a long list no longer demonstrates how hard one worked to find them. Citing 8 articles at a time no longer means much at all.

That is, stating “PCR has been used to create mutations in a gene sequence 23-32” no longer demonstrates the hard work put into gathering those references. It is so easy to find a reference that adding more than a few looks like overkill. That does not mean that the scientists are not reading all those other ones. They still appear to be, and are even reading more, they just may be including only the relevant ones in their citations.

Two others put the data into a different perspective. Bill Hooker at Open Reading Frame did more than most of us. He actually went exploring in the paper itself and added his own commentary. Let’s look at his response to examining older articles:

The first is that citing more and older references is somehow better — that bit about “anchor[ing] findings deeply intro past and present scholarship”. I don’t buy it. Anyone who wants to read deeply into the past of a field can follow the citation trail back from more recent references, and there’s no point cluttering up every paper with every single reference back to Aristotle. As you go further back there are more errors, mistaken models, lack of information, technical difficulties overcome in later work, and so on — and that’s how it’s supposed to work. I’m not saying that it’s not worth reading way back in the archives, or that you don’t sometimes find overlooked ideas or observations there, but I am saying that it’s not something you want to spend most of your time doing.

It is much harder work to determine how relevant a random 10 year old paper is than one published last month. In the vast majority of cases, particularly in a rapidly advancing field (say neuroscience) papers that old will be chock full of errors based on inadequate knowledge. This would diminish their usefulness as a reference. In general, new papers will be better to use. I would be curious for someone to examine reference patterns in papers published 15 years ago to see how many of the multitude of citations are actually relevant or even correct?

Finally, one reason to include a lot of references is to help your readers find the needed information without having to do the painful work of digging it out themselves. This is the main reason to include lots of citations.

When I started in research, a good review article was extremely valuable. I could use it to dig out the articles I needed. I loved papers with lots of references, since it made my life easier. This benefit is no longer quite as needed because other approaches are now available to find relevant papers in a much more rapid fashion than just a few years ago.

Bill discusses this, demonstrating that since it is so much easier to find relevant article today, this need to help the reader in THEIR searches is greatly diminshed.

OK, suppose you do show that — it’s only a bad thing if you assume that the authors who are citing fewer and more recent articles are somehow ignorant of the earlier work. They’re not: as I said, later work builds on earlier. Evans makes no attempt to demonstrate that there is a break in the citation trail — that these authors who are citing fewer and more recent articles are in any way missing something relevant. Rather, I’d say they’re simply citing what they need to get their point across, and leaving readers who want to cast a wider net to do that for themselves (which, of course, they can do much more rapidly and thoroughly now that they can do it online).

Finally, he really examines the data to see if they actually show what many other reports have encapsulated. What he finds is that the online access is not really equal. Much of it is still commercial and requires payment. He has this to say when examining the difference between commercial online content and Open Access (my emphasis):

What this suggests to me is that the driving force in Evans’ suggested “narrow[ing of] the range of findings and ideas built upon” is not online access per se but in fact commercial access, with its attendant question of who can afford to read what. Evans’ own data indicate that if the online access in question is free of charge, the apparent narrowing effect is significantly reduced or even reversed. Moreover, the commercially available corpus is and has always been much larger than the freely available body of knowledge (for instance, DOAJ currently lists around 3500 journals, approximately 10-15% of the total number of scholarly journals). This indicates that if all of the online access that went into Evans’ model had been free all along, the anti-narrowing effect of Open Access would be considerably amplified.

[See he uses the possessive of Evans the way I was taught. I wish that they would tell me when grammar rules change so I could keep up.]

It will take a lot more work to see if there really is a significant difference in the patterns between Open Access publications and commercial ones. But this give and take that Bill utilizes is exactly how Science progresses. Some data is presented, with a hypothesis. Others critique the hypothesis and do further experiments to determine which is correct. The conclusions from Evans’ paper are still too tentative, in my opinion, and Bill’s criticisms provide ample fodder for further examinations.

Finally, Deepak Singh at BBGM provides an interesting perspective. He gets into one of the main points that I think is rapidly changing much of how we do research. Finding information is so easy today that one can rapidly gather links. This means that even interested amateurs can find information they need, something that was almost impossible before the Web.

The authors fail to realize that for the majority of us, the non-specialists, the web is a treasure trove of knowledge that most either did not have access to before, or had to do too much work to get. Any knowledge that they have is better than what they would have had in the absence of all this information at our fingertips. Could the tools they have to become more efficient and deal with this information glut be improved? Of course, and so will our habits evolve as we learn to deal with information overload.

He further discusses the effects on himself and other researchers:

So what about those who make information their life. Creating it, parsing it, trying to glean additional information to it. As one of those, and having met and known many others, all I can say is that to say that the internet and all this information has made us shallower in our searching is completely off the mark. It’s easy enough to go from A –> B, but the fun part is going from A –> B –> C –> D or even A –> B –> C –> H, which is the fun part of online discovery. I would argue that in looking for citations we can now find citations of increased relevance, rather than rehashing ones that others do, and that’s only part of the story. We have the ability to discovery links through our online networks. It’s up to the user tho bring some diversity into those networks, and I would wager most of us do that.

So, even if there is something ‘bad’ about scientists having a more shallow set of citations in their publications, this is outweighed by the huge positive seen in easy access for non-scientists. They can now find information that used to be so hard to find that only experts ever read them. The citation list may be shorter but the diversity of the readers could be substantially enlarged.

Finally, Philip Davis at The Scholarly Kitchen may provide the best perspective. He also demonstrates how the Web can obliterate previous routes to disseminate information. After all the to-do about not going far enough back into the past for references, Philip provides not only a link (lets call it a citation) from a 1965 paper by Derek Price but also provides a quote:

I am tempted to conclude that a very large fraction of the alleged 35,000 journals now current must be reckoned as merely a distant background noise, and as far from central or strategic in any of the knitted strips from which the cloth of science is woven.

So even forty years ago it was recognized that most publications were just background noise. But, what Philip does next is very subtle, since he does not mention it. Follow his link to Price’s paper (which is available on the Web, entitled Networks of Scientific Papers). You can see the references Price had in his paper. a total of 11. But you can also see what papers have used Price’s paper as a reference. You can see that quite a few recent papers have used this forty year old paper as a reference. Seems like some people maintain quite a bit of depth in their citations!

And now, thanks to Philip, I will read an interesting paper I would never have read before. So perhaps there will be new avenues to find relevant papers that does not rely on following a reference list back in time. The Web provides new routes that short circuits this but are not seen if people only follow databases of article references.

In conclusion, the apparent shallownesss may only be an artifact of publishing changes, it may reflect a change in the needs of the authors and their readers, it may not correctly factor in differences in online publishing methods, it could be irrelevant and/or it could be flat out wrong. But it is certainly an important work because it will drive further investigations to tease out just what is going on.

It already has, just by following online conversations about it. And to think that these conversations would not have been accessible to many just 5 years ago. The openness displayed here is another of the tremendous advances of online publication.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Remembering is not enough

by foundphotoslj
Why is genetics so difficult for students to learn?:
[Via Gobbledygook]

This Sunday morning at the International Congress of Genetics, Tony Griffiths gave an interesting presentation with the above title. He identified 12 possible reasons why students have problems learning genetics. His main argument: students should learn concepts and principles and apply them creatively in novel situations (the research mode). Instead, too many details are often crammed into seminars and textbooks. In other words, students often stay at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy, the remembering of knowledge. The highest level, the creation of new knowledge, is seldom reached, although these skills are of course critical for a successful researcher.

Andrew Moore from EMBO talked about the teaching of genetics in the classroom. He was concerned that a survey found that molecular evolution (or molecular phylogeny) was taught in not more than 30% of European classrooms. He gave some examples of how principles of genetics can be integrated into high school teaching.

Wolfgang Nellen explained his successful Science Bridge project of teaching genetics in the classroom, using biology students as teachers. Interestingly, they have not only taught high school students, but also journalists and – priests (German language link here). Politicians were the only group of people that weren’t interested in his offer of a basic science course.

Teaching is a very specific mode of transferring information, one that has its own paths. It is an attempt to diffuse a lot of information throughout an ad hoc community.

But it is often decoupled from any social networking, usually having just an authority figure disperse data, with little in the way of conversations. There is little analysis and even less synthesis, just Remembering what is required for the next test.

Bloom’s taxonomy is a nice measure of an individual’s progress through learning but it is orthogonal to the learning a community undergoes. Most instruction today is geared towards making the individual attain the highest part of the pyramid.

How does this model change in a world where social networking skills may be more important? What happens to Remembering when Google exists? When information can be so easily retrieved, grading for Remembering seems foolish.

The methods we use to teach at most centers of higher education are, at heart, based on models first developed over a century ago. It may be that they will have to be greatly altered before some of the real potential of online social networks will occur.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Tending a garden

garden independentman
Getting Conversation Ready:

[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Holly Ross wrote a good reflection piece about public conversations on blogs and how to get your audience ready for that conversation. She makes the point:

What I am saying is that your audience may not be ready to have the conversation that social media enables. That’s because social media does not just enable conversations.It enables PUBLIC conversations.

I think we have to remember that it takes time build the community to have the conversation and that it doesn’t happen right away. You have to be ready as conversation facilitator. Alexandra Samuel did a workshop called “Bringing Your Community to Life” at Netsquared and offered some terrific practical advice about you get the conversation started.

Some key points:

Key points to encourage participation:

Focus on promoting conversation

Make it happen, don’t wait for it

Connect like-minded participants

Connect complimentary threads

Plan pro-actively, implement reactively

A community is not built rapidly and a conversation does not always easily begin. It requires nurturing and time, just like a garden. It has to be curated by active,enthusiastic members. They have to reach out to others, to begin the dialogs that will enhance the entire network.

Just as an outstanding garden does not spontaneously come into being, an online community requires active management. A lot of work, somettimes. But like a well-tended garden if given the right care, it can pay off handsomely.

Technorati Tags:

Fighting malaria with Web 2.0

mosquito by aussiegall
Social networking site aims to help fight malaria:
[Via News at Nature – Most Recent]

New website gives smaller African projects a bigger profile.

An interesting approach – using social networking tools to help increase awareness of anti-malaria projects and help fundraising effort. It is a novel way to use some of these tools but I wonder if these would be more successful as a stand alone project or under the wings of larger social media entities?

Technorati Tags: , ,

Going Live, Slowly

construction by m o d e

This site will be coming alive over the next week or so. We have a lot to cover and want it to be done without overwhelming anyone. SpreadingScience will make it easier for researchers to deal with the tremendous amount of information that threatens to overwhelm their efforts.

We do this through a teaching approach dealing with both Science 1.0 techniques to transmit information (papers, oral presentations and posters) as well as Science 2.0 ones.

What most scientists know about Science 1.0 comes from on the job training. We have developed some areas of good practice which permit much more effective use of their time for transferring information.

Science 2.0 approaches using online collaborative tools (wikis, blogs, podcasts) hold the promise of lowering many of the barriers to effective information transfer.

However, these tools must operate in a social network, even if it is online. Without an understanding of how the social networks of researchers are similar to those of other groups, and how they are different, the tools of Science 2.0 will not flourish.

This is where SpreadingScience has its greatest impact. Contact us to find out more about what we can do for your research organization.

Technorati Tags: ,

GSP – Charities and Social networks

Giving Good Poke: Using Social Apps & Media for Social Causes – Beth Kanter

Her slides.

Lots of interesting ways to raise money. (Beth’s blog). used social networks to raise money. What gets through to donars and what annoys them. Has done this 3 times.

Sharing Foundations (raised $93,000!). Used America’s giving challenge. 1 individual to get most unique donars. 50 days. Dec 13 at 3 PM. She opened her Kimono (asked her community to help. Possible downside overwhelmed by huge upside. Good ideas beat possble cheaters.)

Strategy – Make it personal (shared experience, etc.). She cares about Cambodia because her children come from Cambodia. expalin whoy I care about the cause.

remake ladder of engagement (check out slide when it comes online.) Stories become very important. Talked about children, donors, examples of how people engaged, make getting on bus something people want to do.

Used stories to engage individual needs. makes story useful to user outside of specific request.

build relationship. reward people (especially new people). working on how to reward. reciprocity (asker and usrer need to connect. write about other causes. give to others. etc.

connect with others who can be part of campaign. (she used CC. she supported them before so they helped her.)

use social netowrks to help connect (found cambodian who wanted to be a lawyer. connected with CC)

fun and passion are important.

put up birthday and mentioned sending money. social networking sent it all out. asked 51 people to donate $10 for her 51st birthday. used all her social network tech (twitter, flickr, blog, youtube) to make it viral.

then summarized it all on blog. had >250 givers. Still had 20 days left. continued using blog to tell stories. lots of networking going on that she did not have any prior knowledge of. then used twwitter rally. tried to get largest as rapidly. used twitter a lot to get quick messages. raised money this way very fast.

used face to face also.

in 1st place with 24 hours left. had to fly to TX. offline for 6 hours. left in 2nd landed in 5th. through all out effort to network – asking for help from everyone in network to help. twitter would not let her lose. everyone in her network helped.

twittered last hour. ended up winning. raised $50,000

then say thank you in creative fashion.

[WOW, really passionate speaker/ uniques insights. I have been tracking her blog for a while and it is very useful for non-profits.]