The evolution of scientific communication

Jure on Jul 23, 2013

Jure presents ScienceGist at #hack4ac That’s me presenting ScienceGist at #hack4ac (photo by @jasonHoyt). I’m a 27 year old developer/scientist/MD (in that order), and I recently quit working at Academia.edu to embark on my own journey in open science — and I’m here to talk about ScienceGist.

What is ScienceGist? Might be easier to explain with a bit of a backstory. One winter morning this year, I was watching a talk by Jorge Cham, a comic artist who draws the always excellent PHD Comics. Jorge was talking about the science gap and explaining how distant the general public is from scientists and academia. Before news of a scientific discovery reaches you and me, it goes through the science news cycle, which is not unlike a game of telephone played by the scientist, the scientist’s head of laboratory, the laboratory’s PR department, the news organization’s journalist, the journalist’s editor, and finally you and me, the general public (+/- a few players). What scientists say can and will get mangled by players (willingly and unwillingly). The Science News Cycle It’s absurd that this is still the case in the age of the internet! Can’t we connect scientists with the general public using the power of the web? That’s exactly what ScienceGist aims to do. We want to be the replacement for a faulty science news cycle and connect scientists to the general public directly, by giving scientists a way to share summaries (ideally in “simple English”) of their research online. Direct connection with ScienceGist Having a repository of summaries of current research not only benefits the general public, but has many advantages for scientists too. Summaries make it much easier to switch to a completely new field or quickly find the right paper.

So where do we stand currently? It’s early days, ScienceGist launched just over 2 weeks ago (winning at #hack4ac). What we have right now is an MVP (open source on GitHub), with the basic feautures: creating new gists, searching through gists, user profiles/karma points and voting system. Technology-wise it’s a good start, but more importantly, I’ve started building a community that appreciates and nurtures the art of simplifying and explaining complex concepts ScienceGist followers. There are also a few very good gists on the site already: about the discovery of anthracimycin, about information loss in black holes, about nuclear astrophysics, to name a few.

It’s going to be an uphill battle, but as one user (Kausik Datta) puts it: “ScienceGist can go a long way in popularizing science and enhancing the understanding of science.” Sounds like a worthy cause. In the end, there’s only one person who can make or break ScienceGist — you.

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