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TEDxWarsaw - Paweł Szczęsny - 3/5/10

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Hello everyone. According to some studies, the typical image of a scientist people have in their minds, is a person with glasses and in a white laboratory coat. You guessed, I'm a scientis. But this outfit is not the only thing, not the only difference between you and me. (laughter) I have a doctorate degree, which means I can recieve research funding research funding for which you are not eligible to apply. I have an academic affiliation which means that I can access scientific literature for which you would need to pay between 10 and 15 US dollars per article. (laughter) Yea. That's funny. And the last thing is that my research area is, basic science. I can relate to your work in one way or another, understand it, appreciate it, but it's not going to work vice versa. (laughter) (applause) Oh, thank you. I hoped your first thought would be, "what the hell? Science is a bloody ivory tower." But what if? What if I explained in a few simple words what is my research area? What if I point you to additional information so you could learn more and understand the topic I'm working on? What if I make sure you have access to all the relevant literature for free? What if I make sure you have access to all the data so you can play with it on your own? What if I take off this laboratory coat so there's one artificial difference less between you and me? What if the only thing that matters, in this game of solving natures mysteries, are skills, knowledge and passion? We have a name for that utopian vision, it's called, open science. (applause) Oh, thank you. And you might think that this vision is not going to become a reality any time soon, but the truth is that science slowly, but steadily, is shifting toward openness. And it doesn't happen without a reason. The reason is, flood of information. Information, knowledge, data, content. The current system is not very efficient in general, but it fails completely when facing the current stream of data. And we needed some change. We didn't need an optimization, we needed a paradigm shift. And it came from the Internet. Internet as a content delivery platform provided us with ways, ideas, of how to give people better access to digital content. And also, the Internet, as an application platform, provided us with ways and tools so we can communicate better, and collaborate more efficiently. Out of these two, the first comes, openness. And we are trying to push openness in science in many different ways. The biggest effort goes toward open access. And "open" means more than, free. You're not only free to read the scientific article, but also to reuse it, remix it, analyze it with the computer software, and share results back to the community. We are trying to make sure you have access to all the data aswell. In my area, I'm a biologist, it happens on a surprisingly large scale. Even pharmaceutical companies are starting to share their data. But if I were to mention a single thing that will have the biggest long-term impact on science, it would be so-called open notebook science. This was invented by Jean-Claud Bradley in 2006. He's a chemist from the US, working on a drug against malaria. In 2006, he started to share his laboratory notebooks online, for everybody to see. Including his competition. This is not only a combination of open access and open data, but it has also a third very important attribute: this is real-time access. Why this is important? In life sciences, especially in life sciences, in hot areas there is a gap between, "the experiment is done," and, "the experiment is published." And because of this gap, 10, 20, 50 different groups all over the world are repeating exactly the same experiment in exactly the same condition. If we can make sure that all experiments that are done today are reported almost immediately on the Internet, we will save enormous amount of resources, and enourmous amount of money. And we are trying to make science as open as possible without-- because, you know this very well, that openness invites. Not only enables, but invites other people. Those of you who have a strong online presence, you know that very well, that if you share your experience, your idea, problem, solution, not always, but often, you will meet, you will face some reaction. Disagreement, praise, solution, willingness to join, or willingness to help. This does happen in science aswell. And probably some of you remember this cool screensaver from the project called, [email protected] In idle time of your computer, the screensaver was analyzing data from radiotelescopes in search for extra-terrestial civilizations. I would rather mention the other project from my area which is trying to solve-- to attack the problem significantly less important, but also very difficult. The screensaver from [email protected] runs a small piece of a very giant simulation of a protein collapsing from extended state into a compact 3-dimensional stable structure. Understanding this process is very important for the reasons that I don't have time to explain, (laughter) Yea, thank you. And currently this project is focusing the efforts on proteins related to diseases, such as Alzheimers. And important question, an important problem, a very low-entry barrier, and as a result you have a computing power that's among the biggest in the world, and a huge scientific output. But if these "at home" projects, running screen savers, feel a bit passive to you, that's not a problem. If you want to be more engaged and you're interested in paleontology, you can join Open Dinosaur Project. In this project you are-- people are collecting and analyzing data concerning dinosaurs' bone measurements. The goal is to understand the evolution of these giant reptiles. In this project you are not only contributing the data, but you're welcome to participate in the discussion, have your own opinion, and it doesn't really matter what's your background, as long as your ideas are good. And I would like to mention one more project, one more large-scale scientific collaboration. It's called, "Polymath Project". This is a series of projects in which people are trying to solve hard mathematical problems. The first polymath project attracted 27 people, which might seem to you a bit low. But if you think that-- If you consider the fact that the topic puts a very high requirement on the participants, and also if you think about the fact that mathematicians for years and for ages were working entirely alone, 27 is a huge number in mathematics. (laughter) Also, it took 37 days to solve the problem, in case of the first polymath project, which is another record. Currently they are working on a 5th problem in a row. 4 were already solved. But it's very easy to talk about these large-scale collaborations, but if you look at the display, it roughly represents the size of a team versus the number of teams of certain size. In other words, there's quite few projects which collect, attract a large number of people, and a large number of projects which-- which are concerning only very few, maybe two. The small things matter, and I'll show you an example. This is a protein called, potassium channel. This is a quite important protein, for example, a scorpion's toxin contains another protein which blocks this one, and as it is widely known, being bitten by a scorpion isn't a particularly healthy experience. One day, Cameron Naylon who is a chemist from the UK, asked openly on FriendFeed, which is a platform for aggregating online activity, for help. He wanted somebody to build a model of such protein for him. I was around, I had the necessary skills, I did it. Okay, and this scientific collaboration between two people, started. And the very common perception of that [kind of] collaboration is that two icons of scientists started to work together without an apparent reason. Even we, scientists, think about ourselves in a similar manner. We thing about ourselves as soulless, emotionless robots producing paper after paper. That might be true in a typical academic environment, but this is not the case in online science. Online science has a human face. The only, well-- I wasn't particularly thrilled by the scientific question Cameron was trying to answer. I'm not passionate about potassium channels either. There was no money involved, which is kind of the usual for online collaboration, and-- We wish it were, but it's not going to happen any time soon. And the only reason I was doing the model on my laptop, with my wife standing over my shoulder, saying: "Honey, we should be leaving now," was that Cameron was part of my online circle of friends. This is not a network, this is a circle of friends. It's a bit more, maybe not a friendship, It doesn't really matter. You know this team. There were a few people referring to that throughout this conference today. "Be nice, help people." I don't know that about you, I didn't expect that scientific progress depends on being nice to other people. And what really happens in case of open science-- We are inviting other people to join us. We are lowering our barriers of entry. And you might expect that the main outcome would be that the scientific progress is going to explode. If you have a large number of people collaborating, doing science, this is what would happen. But I think, what really is going to happen if two things meet together: the hyperconnectivity and openness, these two things coming together will empower people to the scale that wasn't available previously. Thank you. (applause) (Ralph Talmont:) We could talk about this for a very long time, and I'd love to ask several questions, and I will. Later. Because we are unfortunately... (Paweł Szczęsny:) ... out of time. Sure (RT:) Yea. Thank you. (PS:) Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 2 seconds
Country: Poland
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxWarsaw
Director: TEDxWarsaw
Views: 95
Posted by: tedxwarsaw on Mar 15, 2010

Paweł Szczęsny conducts research in area of systems biology at Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Pawel's TEDxWarsaw talk dealt with the ideas behind open scientific collaboration.

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