Articles by Lorrie LeJeune

Lorrie LeJeune is Managing Director of OpenWetWare. In previous professional incarnations Lorrie was a molecular biologist, an editor at O’Reilly Media, a program manager for mobile applications at Orange, and an illustrator of O’Reilly book covers.

With the ability to get information anywhere in the world in seconds, and the virtually immediate obsolescence of any printed work, why are journals such an important part of academic research?

This question, under the heading “Are Academic Journals Obsolete?” was posted yesterday on Ask Slashdot. As you might expect, the comments are wide ranging and interesting.

When page layout software was first introduced and do-it-yourself desktop publishing became popular, many people wondered if publishers would become obsolete. Now, twenty years later, we have blogs, newsfeeds, and even better DIY publishing tools like blurb.com. Anyone can publish anything and reach a wider audience than ever before. And publishers still exist.

The arguments about whether academic journals are obsolete is a long and complex one, and you’ll see a wide range of opinions on this and other questions like it. Perhaps the print journal is a vanishing breed, for many of the reasons stated in the Slashdot posting. But much of the value, such as peer review, that academic publishers bring to their work is still very valid. Either way, until the systems for academic tenure and funding change, the academic journal in print or web-based form is unlikely to vanish.

OWW recently joined The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a growing grassroots network of universities, scientific societies, science centers and museums, government agencies, advocacy groups, media, schools, educators, businesses, and industry — basically, anyone who cares about science and is concerned about national scientific literacy. COPUS and its participants lead the way in the celebration of the Year of Science 2009 (YoS09) — a national, year-long celebration of science to engage the public and improve public understanding about how science works, why it matters, and who scientists are. Read more about the Coalition’s activities here.

Natalie Kuldell, OWW member and an instructor in Biological Engineering at MIT, is coordinating the Boston-area COPUS hub. The hub is open to anyone who is interested in networking and partnering with great institutions around town (such as WGBH, Boston’s Museum of Science, and lots of others) to cross-promote activities like Science Cafes, DIY bio groups, and work on the Encyclopedia of Life/Encyclopedia of Species. If you’d like to see science moved from the fringe to center stage, COPUS is a great place to get involved.

Feel free to email Natalie (nkuldell at mit dot edu) for more information about the Boston hub. Participation is open to anyone in the science community in the Boston area (or anyone within driving distance), the more the merrier! After hosting a great kick-off meeting in early May, the Boston COPUS Hub will be holding its second mixer event on July 29th at the WGBH studios in Somerville to preview the summer NovaNOW series. In addition, the Boston folks have a third mixer and showcase planned for Sept 26th at the MIT Museum as part of its anniversary celebration. If you’re not in the Boston area, there may be a COPUS hub in your area.

Natalie writes, “My experiences with this group have been inspiring. There are so many incredible folks involved, doing exciting educational and engaging work. Hope you’ll consider joining the fun!”

Having a presence on OWW can help a lab gain exposure in some unexpected ways. Last week the French, Keymer, and McKinney labs, all of whom maintain wikis on OWW, were mentioned in Virtual networking for microbiologists, a Nature review about Web 2.0 applications and science. Check out the full review at http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v6/n6/full/nrmicro1922.html.

OpenWetWare is a strong supporter of iGEM (iGem.org) the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, which is now shifting into high gear for 2008. iGEM and OpenWetWare share some important core values including openness, community, and sharing of information. Check out the 2008 iGEM team wikis on OWW and on the iGEM site. If you’re on an iGEM team that hasn’t yet started a team notebook, check out OWW’s new One-Click Lab Notebook. It has lots of great new features.

Registration for iGEM 2008 closes on Friday, May 9, at 6pm U.S. EDT, so if you haven’t already done so, be sure to complete your registration in time!