Green Tea and Velociraptors

Green Tea and Velociraptors

Minerals and the search for life on Mars

This was originally posted on James Lewis’ personal blog at:
 http://marsblogger.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/minerals-and-the-search-for-life-on-mars/

(Re-posted with permission)

Understanding if life could ever have existed on Mars is one of the most challenging scientific questions facing us in the 21st Century. We know that the Martian surface at present is an arid environment bombarded with ultraviolet radiation, so the chance of finding living organisms existing there today is extremely unlikely. However, Mars has not always been this way, its history is divided into three distinct geological periods; the Amazonian, Hesperian, and the Noachian. The oldest of these, the Noachian, is likely to have been a significantly more promising time for life to potentially evolve as liquid water persisted on or near the surface long enough to carve valleys into the Martian surface and leave behind distinctive rock units. For example, in Gale Crater Curiosity Rover discovered minerals that indicated the presence of a freshwater lake at the time of their formation billions of years ago, an environment favourable to life or at least life as we understand it on Earth.

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One small step for Nature..

Macmillan have released an interesting press release, announcing that all research papers published in their 49 Nature Publishing Group (NPG) journals, including Nature, will be made free to read online, via one of Digital Science’s pet projects, ReadCube (note that Digital Science is also owned by Macmillan). These articles can be annotated in ReadCube, but not copied, printed, or downloaded.

This is not open access*, and NPG have been very careful and explicit about stating this.

What is the reason for this move, then, when we have a globally shifting environment towards open access? Well, academics love to break rules. We share papers freely, and often illegally, with our colleagues all the time. It’s a sort of passive rebellion against paywall-based publishers. A great example of this is #icanhazpdf on Twitter, whereby articles are requested, and then hopefully shared privately by someone else. This kind of activity is what NPG are calling ‘dark social’, like some terrible name for an evil media organisation. By this, they simply mean sharing, but out of their control. This new initiative seems to be a way of controlling, and legitimising this sort of ‘peer-to-peer’ practice.

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“Open access wins all of the arguments all of the time.”

One is rather inspired. OpenCon 2014 was a wonderful time bringing together the best minds in early career research and the ‘world of open’ to discuss how we make access to knowledge, data, and educational resources better for everyone. It wasn’t so much an event*, as a milestone. Here’s the story of its success.

I don’t want to run through the basics of each aspect of open access, data, and education. Let me instead tell you instead about how we just marked a revolutionary point in making the fundamental right to research a reality. When I use the word ‘publishers’ through this post, I’m talking primarily about legacy ones – those who operate on a paywall-based model and publicly declare themselves to be enemies of progressing research (I’m not going to name names, we all know who they are – PeerJ is clearly safe). This does not include many learned societies, which I think are an invaluable component of academic communities and are a completely separate discussion we need to have.

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Let’s have a discussion about live-tweeting academic conferences

Tl,dr version: I think we need more appropriate guidelines for live-tweeting conferences, specifically regarding the broadcasting of sensitive research. This should be at the discretion of the author, and ideally stated at the beginning of each talk.

Suzie Maidment, a colleague and friend of mine, recently started a major discussion on and off the internet with the following tweet: “I do think we need to have a discussion about live tweeting unpublished results & conclusions though. It’s just not cool.” (@Tweetisaurus)

The ensuing debate has lasted for four days now, and is on-going. Clearly, we need to have a discussion about live-tweeting at conferences. What followed from the initial tweet was a great debate, punctuated by a series of misunderstandings, ridiculous statements, partially offensive tweets, and what I think from some shows an attitude of disrespect towards colleagues. This was not from everyone involved – the dialogue was overwhelmingly progressive, but cut by a lot of opinions that could clearly do with thinking through a bit more, especially from those a bit new to the twitter game.

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