Will changing how science is measured change what science produces?


Author unknown, image from Altmetrics: a manifesto.
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I have written previously that the definition of  success will deeply influence the outcome of the project. When looking at innovation projects as a system, I believe that the design criteria are the greatest place to intervene and inform the overall flow of creative thinking. When you look at a project through the lens of evolution, the design criteria are the selective pressures that shape how organisms adapt to their contextual conditions. It’s all biomimicry… of course.

In Nature, there was an incredible Comment article by Heather Piwowar titled “Value all research products” which discussed the emergence of different measures of success in scientific research. These “altmetrics” are simply:

New ways to measure engagement with research output.

Basically, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is now measuring researchers on content beyond papers. This means that data sets, or engagement in online research forums will now be taken into account when determining the success of a given researcher and whether they should receive further funding. This new selective pressure could deeply influence the shift towards open information, alternative research models and increased collaboration.

There is a “manifesto” outlining the details behind altmetrics which discusses the bottle necks currently occurring in the status quo of peer reviewed journals and how new metrics will not just alter the content being produced, but how it gets validated and shared. One of their interesting statements is around the opportunity of speeding up information exchange:

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Project: Science Design Dialogue

I might have got myself in trouble here…

A recent post stirred up some great conversation, and someone actually called me on an idea, and now I have to put my money where my mouth is. My question to the internet was;

“Is anyone interested in starting a dialogue around science with non-scientists?”

The answer was yes (thanks to Peter “Scelop” Nierowski and the mighty Tim McGee), and so now we have to think about setting this up.

Using this blog as the sounding board to get the initial discussion going, here is the game plan, and all you beautiful people out there, let me know what you think.

Here’s the the big goal:

To fuel deep dialogue about research, that includes a diverse array of voices, that opens science to a broader audience.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

A paper is selected for its scientific merit and opportunity. A group of motivated people start a free flowing dialogue that includes written discussions, questions, debates, hopes and dreams.

After a period of time, we call it quits and assemble some sort of review summarizing the discussion. It may be something like RSAnimate, or maybe a snippet of Design Fiction, or a paper that could be presented in a biomimicry conference. This could be a research project housed in a university, non-profit, or another model.

In the mean time a new dialogue would have begun around a different paper, and possibly an entirely new topic, for people to connect around.

The big hairy ambitious goal includes the possibility of this dialogue fuelling further research in different labs and institutions that might lead to some game changing insights and discoveries. Or to an incredible book discussing the implications of science in the broader community. At this point, who knows, the vision is broad, but emergent, and will respond to whatever brews up from the discussions.

Let’s do it – here comes the action plan!

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