Grants:TPS/Daniel Mietchen/58th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society/Report

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This Wikimedia Participation Support report has been accepted by the Wikimedia Participation Support Committee.To see the original request, please visit Grants:TPS/Daniel Mietchen/58th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society.


Three biophysicists visiting the Wikimedia Foundation
Self-splicing RNA - from 'Molecule of the Month'

Event name: 58th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (February 15-19, 2014, San Francisco)

Description of your participation:

Together with Jane Richardson (User:Dcrjsr), I organized a 75 min Wikipedia session on Sunday, February 16 (cf. slide). It was attended by about 10 people throughout, with a few more dropping in and out at various times. The session was meant to be interactive, so we stimulated discussion from the beginning. After some initial hesitation, the audience took this up very well, providing practical and theoretical examples and scenarios from their personal research experience as biophysicists. On that basis, we then explored how biophysics does interact with Wikimedia projects (e.g. through WikiProject Biophysics), how these interactions could be expanded (e.g. by publishing research under open licenses, or by participating in the wiki-edit contest), along with the relative merits of current practices in communicating biophysical research and more open approaches to it (e.g. sharing data, code and ideas), especially from the perspective of biophysicists early in their career.

Beyond this session, open licensing was not a topic at all at the conference: almost none of the references cited in the talks or posters were to free-to-read publications, and even less to publications licensed compatibly with reuse on Wikimedia platforms. It was picked up in Jane's interview with the Biophysics TV channel, but when I approached the channel whether they could make their materials available under a Wikimedia-compatible license, they declined.

I participated in a number of education sessions — where I could meet young biophysicists — and exchanged views on emerging trends in biophysics, and how they relate to open approaches. Many of them told me they use Wikipedia on a regular basis, some had made a few edits here and there, but most had never considered contributing. I was also one of the few who tweeted about the event.

Finally, when I mentioned that the headquarters of the Wikimedia Foundation are just a few blocks away from the Moscone Center where the conference took place, two attendees expressed an interest in visiting them, which we just did.


What lessons were learned that could help others in similar events?

A big obstacle was the on-paper program. It went into print before it was certain I could attend, and thus with a title for the wiki session that was too much focused on the wiki contest. The location of the session was also far from many of the other sessions (of which several took place in parallel), and the date indicated wrongly in some places in the program.

My initial plan for the poster sessions was to do what I have been doing at poster sessions for several years now: to ask people about the three Wikipedia articles that I should have read in order to understand their poster, and to check those articles out live in front of the poster. This did not work out well because the poster sessions took place in the main exhibition hall, where the conference WiFi did not work, and public WiFi did not reach. Next time this happens, I might go for buying a data plan specifically for that.

Another conference habit of mine is to work on Wikipedia articles or Commons categories related to the talks I am following. This was hampered by the complete lack of power outlets in the lecture halls (except for speakers) in conjunction with the slow conference WiFi.

What impact did your participation have on the Wikimedia Mission goals of Increased Reach, Increased Quality, Increased Credibility, Increased and Diversified Participation?

Hard to tell. The session itself certainly had impact simply for the fact that it served to kick off the Society's wiki contest, which was also advertised on several pages in the program.

The planning of the session prompted the society's Council to unanimously agree "to make meeting photographs taken by the society's photographers open license, as feasible, and [to] try to persuade entrants in their yearly image contest to do likewise". However, despite several reassurances that this is being worked on, none of these images are publicly available at the time of writing (two weeks after the conference).

On the other hand, the licensing of images featured as part of "Molecule of the Month" postings has been switched to CC BY in preparation for the conference, and some of these images have since found their way onto Commons: commons:Category:Molecule of the Month.

In the conversations throughout the conference, I got the impression that open licensing remains a niche topic amongst the biophysics community, but the niche is expanding. The appreciation of the value of open licenses currently lies mostly with users of code or data, rather then providers thereof, but many researchers are both, and changes are afoot, as also highlighted by the first-time presence of several open-access publishers in the exhibition.

One topic that consistently created interest was that of the PLOS Computational Biology Topic Pages, a biophysical variant of which would be welcomed by many of those who I have spoken to.

Detail of expenditures:

  • Return airfare FRA ==> SFO: EUR 758.87
  • Train Jena ==> FRA: EUR 44.00
  • Train FRA ==> Jena: EUR 36.00
  • Total: EUR 838.87

Amount underspent/left-over (please specify currency): 0