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Monday, September 30, 2002

Weblogs as Lab Notebooks

"The whole power of science is the power of shared ideas, not the power of hidden ideas"

Well said.  Here's McGee's  idea:

Setup each incoming Ph.D. or Master's candidate with a weblog at the beginning of their program. Coach them to use the weblog as a lab notebook of their developing intellectual capital. Use your own weblog to comment on their work and their thinking. Where do you think these students will be after several years of sustained and steady writing? How many will have already started to establish reputations as serious thinkers?

Substitute 'fourth grader' for 'Ph. D. candidate' and you have the beginnings of a real science program.  Substitute 'portfolio' for 'lab notebook' and you have a revolution in the making.  If you really wanted to make sure no child was left behind, then make sure they have a weblog at age eleven.


How I wish that every ten-year old had a weblog. They see more clearly than most of us and routinely ask probing questions (when we let them). Indeed, growing a kids' weblog community is a project that would really interest me. I bet they'd get the hang of it faster than most adults.

What do you think? []  links to this post    5:30:21 PM  

from Learned Publishing, Volume 15 Number 4, October 2002:

The peer-review process, by Fytton Rowland. The recent literature about peer review of scholarly articles is reviewed, with particular emphasis on the cost of the peer-review process. Possible impacts of electronic scholarly publishing upon peer reviewing are discussed.

Two societies show how to profit by providing free access, by Thomas J. Walker. Authors and their sponsors are beginning to realize that immediate free Web access (IFWA) provides the most convenient access to journal articles, thereby maximizing their impact. Furthermore, IFWA is the most economical mode of access, and, no matter what the mode, authors and their sponsors pay nearly all the costs of access ... [The article concludes] Journal publishers should realize that if they initiate IFWA sales they are not only tapping a new source of revenues but they are also reducing the incentives that authors now have to use other means to provide IFWA to the final versions of their articles. ["Other means" include eprint archives! GA] [FOS News]

The first article seems like a particularly good wrapup of the official literature on peer review.

What do you think? []  links to this post    5:23:33 PM  
The human side of knowledge management

These are very telling slides from a presentation about knowledge management at Online Learning 2002 by John Seely Brown (one author of The Social Life of Information). (via OLDaily)
What do you think? []  links to this post    4:37:19 PM  

What is the immediate and pressing pain for which klogging might be the relief?

[Curiouser and curiouser!]

For me, it was the pain of not having like minds to share ideas and the pain of feeling out of touch with reality.

What do you think? []  links to this post    4:06:54 PM  
How to get more readers

Join The RSS News Aggregator Cult!.

The RSS conversion

"John Gruber is going through the RSS conversion. First, you start using a news aggregator that you like, then you feel dumb for not providing an RSS feed for your Web site, and then you kind of stop reading all those sites that don't have RSS feeds. There are some sites that don't support RSS that I still follow, but the truth is that I read them sporadically at best, regardless of how good they are. That's still a better situation than when I didn't use a news aggregator at all and I simply stopped reading all personal sites for weeks at a time because I didn't make time to stroll through my bookmark list to see who was writing what." []

If you haven't tried an aggregator, pass go and collect $200 now. It's amazing to watch others go through the same light bulb moments I did!

Side note to libraries: note the shift in how these on the bleeding edge folks are reading web sites. It's time to start thinking about how to get YOUR news into THEIR aggregators.

[The Shifted Librarian]

What do you think? []  links to this post    3:50:31 PM  

Papers from the July 31 - August 3 European Associ .... Papers from the July 31 - August 3 European Association for the Study of Science and Technology conference are now online. See especially these three papers from the session, The Challenge of Measuring the Web.

[FOS News]
What do you think? []  links to this post    3:46:26 PM  
MIT OpenCourseWare debuts

The MIT OpenCourseWare web site debuted this morning.

I think this is great for MIT and hope more universities follow suit. Prospective students to the univesity can get an excellent idea of just what the courses are about, colleagues can critique each other's course structure or borrow resources and methods, and the Internet public can use them as a resource and refernce that is strongly branded as MIT.

But might they not get as many students if they give away all this information? Why become a formal university student when you can get the knowledge on their web site? Well, you can only truly get the knowledge by interacting with the professor and other studnets via the course. Also, a degree from MIT still looks better than 'I read all the MIT course notes online'.

MIT wants butts in lecture seats and lab rooms to generate revenue. Giving away this course information will draw more students than they might have had otherwise while improving their teaching and research.

[High Context]

What will happen next, when tens of thousands of bright students from all over the world jump onto low-noise discussion media such as weblogs to discuss the course content and help one another? I think MIT students and even professors will be tempted to jump into the public discussion instead of shutting themselves up. Then the advantage of "being there" will be limited to having some face time together. (And to getting their hands on that official MIT diploma...)

This being said, I visited the physics and computer science sections and I'm not thoroughly impressed - so far they have a very partial implementation. But at least it lets you know what MIT uses to teach to its students.

What do you think? []  links to this post    3:34:25 PM  
Are traditional conferences doomed?

I have a very hard time going to traditional conferences anymore. The thought that comes to mind as I am sitting in a room with hundreds of other people listening to only speak is "what a waste." The ability to tap the multiple intellegence of huge numbers of people, and to creat a buffet of invitations and ideas is what I love about Open Space. This article is a very nice summary of conference processes that work.

There is an assumption about meetings and gatherings that’s so old it’s almost genetic. Conferences ask people to come as passive information gatherers. We're drawn by big name speakers and then sit and wait for information to flow downwards. Yet when you ask people where they learned and contributed the most, they’ll inevitably say it was dinner with Tom or a passionate discussion over drinks with Katie and Jack. We need to re-evaluate how we create large group events to take advantage of the way we’re beginning to see, create and connect the world today. Our old style hierarchical models just aren’t as effective anymore, and current conferences are still based on them.

[Open Space]

The following paragraph from the same article almost looks like it was written to promote weblogs. It also reminds me of Esther Dyson's Parallel Channel piece:

Creating multiple, organic discussion. Have you ever heard an author or speaker talking about something you're really interested in? Chances are there’s a lot of other people in the audience who share the same passion. Yet we walk out of the speech without sharing what's going on in our heads or connecting with one or many people present to build off the initial ideas. The friend who came with us might hear how inspired we are, but it's not the same as 10, 25 or 500 of those people in the room beginning a passionate discussion while it's top of mind. When these conversations start, the dividing line between who's leading and who's following is quite blurred and the speaker can take part to whatever level he or she is interested as well. The speaker becomes the catalyst for the rest to do the dance of leader and follower.

What do you think? []  links to this post    12:25:20 PM  
People as neurons, reaching out

This analogy, which is discussed in Peter Russell's book The Global Brain awakens, blends nicely with what I wrote yesterday about lateral thinking and horizontal social connectivity:

The parallels are certainly worthy of consideration. We have already noted that there are, very approximately, the same number of nerve cells in a human brain as there are human minds on the planet. And there are also some interesting similarities between the way the human brain grows and the way in which humanity is evolving.

The embryonic human brain passes through two major phases of development. The first is a massive explosion in the number of nerve cells. Starting eight weeks after conception, the number of neurons explodes, increasing by many millions each hour. After five weeks, however, the process slows down, almost as rapidly as it started. The first stage of brain development, the proliferation of cells, is now complete. At this stage the fetus has most of the nerve cells it will have for the rest of its life.

The brain then proceeds to the second phase of its development, as billions of isolated nerve cells begin making connections with each other, sometimes growing out fibers to connect with cells on the other side of the brain. By the time of birth, a typical nerve cell may communicate directly with several thousand other cells. The growth of the brain after birth consists of the further proliferation of connections. By the time of adulthood many nerve cells are making direct connections with as many as a quarter of a million other cells.

Similar trends can be observed in human society. For the last few centuries the number of "cells" in the embryonic global brain has been proliferating. But today population growth is slowing, and at the same time we are moving into the next phase–the linking of the billions of human minds into a single integrated network. The more complex our global telecommunication capabilities become the more human society is beginning to look like a planetary nervous system. The global brain is beginning to function.

And, shall I add, still fighting with itself much of the time, like its small-scale counterparts.
What do you think? []  links to this post    11:09:03 AM  
A few great thinkers and visionaries

Douglas HofstadterGo to Sasha's personal page Following links from Chris Corrigan's "Open Space" weblog and Flemming Funch's "Ming Makes Sense" I found this list of great thinkers and visionaries put together by Sasha Chislenko.

John McCarthyQuite a list. Many of these have tangibly influenced (and still influence) my thoughts. One thing I find amazing is that, although I've never known Chislenko and have a very different background from his, I would have selected pretty much the same people had I prepared a similar list on my own.

Andrey KolmogorovI can't wait to check out the few people on that list whose names I don't recognize.

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:25:53 AM  
Wasting intellectual effort through bad knowledge management

K. Eric Drexler, in the lucid 1987 article Hypertext Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge, illustrates familiar patterns of communication problems in science through the history of the rise and fall of the (fictitious) square-wheel research program. Most of these issues arise because subcommunities either communicate poorly with one another or distrust one another:

  • Bad ideas adopted through ignorance of refutations - Transportation researchers, concerned with bumpy wheels, pursue work on the square wheel. They reason that it is superior to higher polygons, since it has fewer bumps; further, since its fewer corners probe the height of the ground at fewer points, it is less sensitive to typical bumps on a road. Bearing researchers are familiar with arguments that the decisive issue is bump magnitude rather than number, but the transportation research community remains ignorant of them. Work on the square wheel goes forward under a major defense contract, and major intellectual effort is misinvested.
  • Bad ideas maintained despite outsider's refutations [...]
  • New thinking twisted by misinformation [...]
  • New ideas generated but not pursued [...]
  • Good ideas neglected through ignorance [...]
  • Good ideas neglected because refutations are suspected [...]
  • New thinking undermined by ignorance [...]
  • Old ideas redundantly pursued out of ignorance [...]
  • Effort consumed by research and publication - All of the above ways of squandering intellectual effort could be avoided, given thorough-enough searches of a complete-enough literature. But in reality, the costs of search (which may be fruitless) are high enough that it often makes more sense to risk wasting effort on bad or redundant work. 

Alas, these problems are all too relevant even now that we have more than enough telecommunication and information technology available to largely suppress them. What's missing is the proper culture to exploit that technology. One of yesterday's posts proposed simple ways of fostering inter-group communication.

What do you think? []  links to this post    8:30:39 AM  

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