News, Science & Research

Transforming Research conference discusses ‘science of science’

Researchers, funding organizations, experts, librarians, publishers talk research process

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The University hosted Transforming Research’s first meeting Wednesday morning at South Street Landing. The conference welcomed various research stakeholders to campus, providing them a space to exchange ideas.

Wednesday morning, the Transforming Research Conference welcomed a unique group of professionals to South Street Landing for a series of lectures and discussions. The gathering brings together not only researchers but also research funders, metrics experts, librarians, publishers and other stakeholders in the research community. The conference gives them a space to learn and discuss what Professor of Neuroscience Christopher Moore calls the “science of science.”

Moore is interested in the potential for research processes to be evaluated in a more scientific way. The “macro-level understanding of the (research) enterprise is amazingly non-scientific,” Moore said, and suggested that the best way to measure success in research has yet to be determined. “If we could understand what success was, then maybe we could figure out which environments were best to create it,” he said. “Maybe we could create those environments at Brown.”

Currently, research is evaluated in a number of ways — how many times a certain paper is cited, how many shares on social media it gets or the number of patents that come out of it, said Mike Taylor, an organizer of the conference and head of metrics development at technology research investment company Digital Science. Developing metrics for scientific discovery allows the scientific community to standardize all of these different forms of data so that they can be compared.

Applying metrics to discovery attempts to “measure the immeasurable,” Moore said. While no ideal evaluation system exists, the conference aims to get the community closer to an answer, he added.

Transforming Research held its inaugural meeting last year at Johns Hopkins University. Moore got excited about the conference when his colleague John Armstrong, the CEO of DiscoveryEngine, attended the event last year. Moore’s enthusiasm helped bring the conference to the University this year, Taylor said. 

“Although data and evidence are becoming increasingly important, we don’t often have conversations about what all of these numbers mean,” Taylor said. As a result, Transforming Research aimed to create a space for those conversations to occur. He elaborated that, based on last year’s meeting, the most important component of the conference was the generous amount of time left between scheduled lectures that gives attendees and speakers the chance to talk to each other and interact with those outside of their subfield.

The University offers an environment conducive to the themes of the conference, Moore said. “It’s a wonderful campus full of lots of different kinds of scholars,” Moore said, and added that the University has many proponents of “fairness and openness in academia.”

Cornelia Dean, visiting professor of the practice of science, technology and society and former science editor at the New York Times, spoke at the event on Wednesday morning. Her talk centered on the public’s understanding of science, and the various barriers that can prevent the complete comprehension of research for those who aren’t involved in it. She has written two books — her first, “Am I Making Myself Clear?,” focuses on how researchers can present their work to a common audience, while her second title, “Making Sense of Science,” acts a guide for the public to understand scientific research. Before she spoke at the event, Dean said her remarks would highlight the notion that “the research community needs to engage more frequently, and better, with the public.”

Increasing public interaction with science is crucial in a world that more frequently faces controversial breakthroughs, Dean said, and drew on examples such as CRISPR genetic modification, artificial intelligence on the battlefield and geoengineering. Decisions on these issues cannot be made without “ordinary citizens who are able to carry on conversations … in a way that’s based on fact and not on manipulation,” she said.

Transforming Research continues today with a program that features a talk by Neil Sarkar, the director of the Brown Center for Biomedical Informatics, a session on research policy and strategy led by Taylor and Armstrong and presentations on citizen science, metrics and other topics.

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