Scifoo 2008 (or My Weekend at Google with the Jedi Council)


Still recovering from the weekend. I landed last night at O’Hare at 1:00 AM, drove home, and quickly fell asleep. I was at scifoo all weekend, and you can see my steady stream of Twitter Messages from the sessions I attended. While, I attended Scifoo as a “reporter” from O’Reilly News, it isn’t the kind of event that can be “covered”. It doesn’t matter if you attend as a reporter, scientist, or volunteer…. if you are at Scifoo, you are part of a continuing conversation.

…and it was intense. Some highlights:

  • Talking to Vince Smith about taxonomy, biodiversity, and the architecture of participatory science. More on that over the next few days. As he was talking to me about collaboration it reminded me of the current shift from centralized version control to decentralized version control. He and I talked for while, I think science is ripe for technologies like git – I’m reading Kuhn lately, and I think decentralized version control is essential to science as it allows challengers to fork with ease. “Open Science Must be Easily Forked”
  • Talking to Martin Rees about the differences between the UK and US and the effect of religion on science. I’m not entirely familiar with the title, but I believe you would address him as “Baron Rees”. He was absolutely approachable and interested in talking about issues of funding and policy.
  • Wally Gilbert – Maxam and he developed a DNA sequencing method. He went on to win a Nobel Prize with Sanger and Berg. I talked to him briefly about the ramifications of his discovery thirty years on and about the different ways that the public misunderstands DNA. I was born after his discovery, and I’ve grown up in in a post-sequencing world, it was interesting to talk one of the people responsible for the discovery about how different generations have a different perspective on the seem scientific discovery. I’m very interested in his art photography.
  • David Bauer (undegraduate in Chemistry focused on DNA sequencing) – captured some video about science and public “enchantment”….. I asked: “So, you do gene sequencing? Have you met Wally Gilbert yet? He invented it.” Him, “No, I haven’t, I should probably talk to him.”
  • Dylan Field (maybe I got the name wrong) – in high school, was there from O’Reilly. Talked about the differences between mathematics theory versus application.
  • PatientsLikeMe, portable genetics, second life, FUNGUS!, soundscapes, music and language….

It was overwhelming, but the theme was Open Science, and I wish there were people more capable than I there to help infect scientists with the ideas of open collaboration and transparency. My three words during the introduction were “Open-source Just Began”, and I believe it. But, I also believe that there are lessons that science (and politics and everything else) can learn from open source. I’m interested in talking to Mons about wikiprofessional more and learning about his thoughts on replacing peer review with a more collaborative process. his ideas are both interesting, promising, and dangerous. Peer review might be broken, but I’d hate to see it replaced by the governance problems that popup in Wikis and Meritocratic open source foundations.

The biggest thing I took away from the event is that we need to do a better job of bringing science to practicing technologists so that they will involve themselves in the development of a new “open science”.

PS: what’s a technologist? We’re a step about the programmer, we’re lefkowitz’s “Open Source as Liberal Art” polymaths. A technologist is both “Techne” and “Praxis”. I’m too overloaded from the weekend to even explain it. More later.

PSS: The recorded sound of wolves in the Canadian wilderness actually made me a bit emotional. Krause’s work is some of the most important stuff happening right now. Using natural soundscapes as a way to track biodiversity and the impact of logging, pollution, and human activity. Watch his presentation and you’ll walk away with the idea that everything is constantly singing…. trees, frogs, seals, anenomes, jungles…. Much more on that later

Much more on everything later, likely it’ll be on O’Reilly News over the next few months.