seascape models

e-media tools for the creation, publication and promotion of academic papers

I recently signed up for a Slack channel, a kind of chat room for work projects that seems to be popular with programmers and that some academics are picking up for their lab groups now.

Signing up for Slack made me realise how much I have been using e-media a range of e-media tools in the pipeline from ideas generation to publication and sharing of research. I wanted to document some of those tools and their uses in the pipeline here.

“e-media tools have massive potential for changing the way we collaborate on and communicate our research”

We will work through the process from ideas generation to research communication, which wraps back around to generating new ideas.

I will focus on the tools I use, though I recognise there are many similar options to the specific brand names I will give.

1. Generating ideas

Key tools: Twitter, blogging, and comments on blogs/papers.

Discussions started on Twitter, perhaps when someone shares a new research paper, can sometimes inspire new ideas. This has happened to me and other people have reported it too.

Blogging is great if you have a longer idea you want to seek feedback on. In fact, we should perhaps just get rid of ‘perspectives’ papers and make them blogs intead. Perspectives tend to present opinion rather than hard evidence. They suggest interesting ideas that need to be tested. Arguably putting them in our academic journals gives them the pretence of being evidence based science. Writing them as blog posts would also save time and hassle with the review process.

Comments sections at the end of blogs and on some online journals are also an opportunity to inpsire new research directions.

2. Developing the paper: story, methods, analysis and interpretation

Key tools: Video-conferencing, Slack and similar, Dropbox, Google docs, Github, Stackoverflow, and boring old email.

Once you have the idea you move to a phase of developing the work with a smaller group of people who will generally your coauthors.

At this stage the process usually moves to platforms with more restricted viewing (though their is no reason it couldn’t also be totally open).

I used to use Skype alot, but the quality seems so poor now I have mostly dropped that. I am yet to find a good alternative. Actually, we mostly use phone calls for meetings these days.

I only started using Slack this week, but is seems to have great potential. You can set up “exclusive” chat rooms for sharing documents and code and discussing an idea. We are currently trialling Slack in my lab group as a way to keep in touch and share ideas.

I hope that Slack can cut back on alot of the emailing we do as a lab and make our conversations, well, more conversational.

Github is like social media for programmers (this blog is hosted there). I haven’t used it in a collaborative mode much, but it is a popular way to collaboratively work on a programming project.

Stackoverflow and related sites are really useful for finding help on technical programming or statistical issues. I use them a lot, mostly to read other people’s solutions, but you can pose your own questions on there too.

Need I go into Dropbox and Google drive? I will say you can integrate them with Slack, so that opens up some more convenient ways to use them and keep updated about changes.

Actually, on the topic of Dropbox, I have found it handy for working on collaborative analysis remotely with folk who aren’t that keen on learning Github. I can update the code that generates resulst and share it straight to dropbox, where they can view results.

3. Refining the project

Key tools: As above but also blogging.

As you refine your project, most of the key e-media tools are the same as point 2. However, I would add blogging, or a blog post here.

It can be useful to seek feedback from the scientific community at this stage. You could post a blog or an early draft of your article on your blog and ask for comments.

For instance, while I was writing a paper that commented on [government fisheries policy] I posted an early (but complete) draft on this blog. I asked people to comment on it and got some good feedbacks about gaps in my argument.

4. Pre-prints

Key tools: biorXiv (for biological scientists) or arXiv

This year I have been posting some of my papers on biorXiv (e.g. this one) before I submit them for publication. The reason I do this is that I found myself using a lot of statsy biorXiv pre-prints, because the methods I wanted to try weren’t published in the peer-reviewed literature yet.

I think pre-prints have the potential to speed up the scientific process, because you can (carefully) start to make use of science while it is still traversing its way through the often slow peer-review process.

There are some caveats you should consider before embarking on this option, but so far I haven’t noticed any downsides. There was recently a blog debate about their pros and cons, I think Scientist Sees Squirrel was involved, I can remember who else.

5. Publication

Not too much to say here, you are likely pretty familiar with the tedius process of uploading papers to journal submission sites. My first PhD paper had something like 12 co-authors, and I think it took me a whole day to get it in the journal’s system.

One wish I have is that journal submission sites would have an algorithm that just auto-detects the papers title, authors, affiliations (argh, these can be super annoying to enter), abstract etc… It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

6. Promotion

Key tools: Twitter, blogging, Github.

Your paper is now published and we have come full circle back to Twitter and blogging.

It might seem odd to mention Github here, but if you do any programming, share your code on Github and it will make your paper even more useful to other people.

Posting a plain English description of your key findings and their implications is a great way to help share your research. It might help your research actually get used in an applied sense, because a non-technical specialist will be able to understand how they can use your research.

It can also help you communicate to other scientists, because we can’t be bothered reading techincal papers all the time either. Sometimes we just want to know the headlines.

My institute’s blog is about 2 years old now and those that have got involved like it and keep coming back for more.

Twitter is useful to communicate your blog, or just a link to your paper directly. While it feels somewhat narcissistic to Tweet ones own papers, I often find these are the ones that get the most interest from other people.

Twitter and blogging continue the conversation about your paper, which is why I say we have come full circle - hopefully in sharing your research you will now inspire new research directions.

That’s all except to say I don’t have a comment section on my blog (I can’t be bothered managing the comments), so hit me up on Twitter if you want to start a discussion about this.

Contact: Chris Brown

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