AcaWiki: a wiki that encourages academics to write their stuff for the general public

October 8th, 2009 by jose

AcaWiki is a new wiki aimed at academics. They are asking for summaries of academic research. This could be an excellent exercise for students (i.e., don’t hand me your paper: post it to acaWiki, and let me know when I can look at it).

From reading the FAQ, It’s not clear to me that they are selling it right to the academic community:

What does AcaWiki offer to academic researchers?

AcaWiki offers a web 2.0 way of interacting with the public to increase impact. Research often languishes in academic journals, perhaps read only a few times by infrequent visitors. AcaWiki allows scholars to increase the impact of their research by enabling them to share summaries, long abstracts and literature reviews of their peer-reviewed work online. AcaWiki also encourages discussion by providing a talk page for each research paper.

Hmm, meh. While these are interesting reasons, I doubt academics will rush to fill in summaries. Discussion is covered by reference management sites such as citeUlike. And, of course, to make this work for academics, contributions to acaWiki must be well-evaluated by hiring committees… which is not going to happen any time soon. When faced when the decision of adding one more line to their CV or dedicating a similar stretch of time doing summaries of their articles for acaWiki, what would most academics do?

I still think this could fill a nice niche for student homework. Instead of leaving their work hidden in the HD of their T.A., posting it to acaWiki could be of use to the community. I often have to reread a paper because I’ve forgot most about it, and a good, crowd-refined summary would definitely help.

If you read only one Google Wave post, read this one

October 2nd, 2009 by jose

After 100,000 invites went out yesterday, the web is boiling with reviews. The best no-nonsense explanation I found is a chapter of a forthcoming O’reilly book.

If you got an account, I’ve been on the dev preview (intended for developers to build on but otherwise identical), my user is

Blogging is not (serious) writing, and that’s a good thing

September 19th, 2009 by jose

Is blogging writing? Of course! You say. I would have said the same, before I encountered Jaron Lanier’s essay:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.

What he means is simply that what ‘serious writing’ is about may well have nothing to do with blogging. Blogging is closer to stream-of-conciousness, barely any revisions; ‘serious writing’ for an academic paper implies maybe three paragraphs a day (depending on how much you know the topic!), lots of going back-and-forth with collaborators, and attention to wording that would make a lawyer look sloppy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who does Google think you are?

September 16th, 2009 by james

One of the themes we’ve been discussing here is the idea that prestige and attention are the main currencies of academia. So it only makes sense that you want your online presence to be an accessible and positive reflection of your work and, at the very least, you want to be distinguishable from all of the other John Smiths in the world.

MIT has recently put together a tool called Personas which attempts to figure out this question of online identity. I say attempts because to be honest, it’s a bit hit and miss. The design looks pretty good but the results seem to change each time you run it, you can’t review the underlying data and it doesn’t even have a roll-over to quantify each chunk of your profile (e.g. percent of total, source documents etc).

Personas profile
[click for bigger]

It’s a noble effort though and it got me thinking that there are two sides to the question of online identity. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the scientist as a bureaucrat

September 15th, 2009 by dario

tapsCambridge zoologist Peter A. Lawrence has published a thoughtful piece on the frustration of scientists (whether young or not so young) facing the ruthlessness of the research granting system (Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research). He suggests how a “drastic simplification of this grant-writing process would help scientists return to the business of doing science” and quotes a passage from a recent NYT column by Stephen Quake, who asks what sounds to me like a challenging question:

Could we stimulate more discovery and creativity if more scientists had…security of…research support? Would this encourage risk-taking and lead to an overall improvement in the quality of science?

I take this as a genuine question in search of a convincing empirical answer.

  • The full article is available in PLoS Biology.
  • CC-licensed photo courtesy of .