BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science

I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to keep up with all the BICEP2 excitement in between all the other things I’ve had to do this week but at least the blog has been generating some interest and there’s no sign of that abating yet.  In fact, according to the wordpress elves, today is the busiest day I’ve ever had on In the Dark – and it’s not even 6pm yet!

I realize that I’ve posted several items on B-modes without ever showing a picture of what they look like, so here you go, an image of the B-mode polarization seen by the BICEP2 experiment:

b_over_b_rect_BICEP2

When the BICEP2 team announced that  a “major astrophysics discovery” would be announced this Monday I have to admit that I was quite a bit uncomfortable about the way things were being done. I’ve never been keen on “Science by Press Release” and when it became clear that the press conference would be announcing results that hadn’t yet been peer-reviewed my concerns deepened.

However, the BICEP2 team immediately made available not only the “discovery” paper but also the data products, so people with sufficient expertise (and time) could try to unpick the content. This is fully in the spirit of open science and I applaud them for it. Indeed one could argue that putting everything out in the open the way they have is ensuring that that their work is being peer-reviewed in the open by the entire cosmological community not secretly and by one or two anonymous individuals. The more I think about it the more convinced I am becoming that this is a better way of doing peer review than the traditional method, although before I decide that for sure I’d like to know whether the BICEP2 actually does stand up!

One of the particularly interesting developments in this case is the role social media are playing in the BICEP2 story. A Facebook Group was set up in advance of Monday’s announcement and live discussion started immediately the press conference started. The group now has well over 700 members, including many eminent cosmologists. And me. There’s a very healthy scientific discussion going on there which may well prove to be a model of how such things happen in the future. Is this a sign of a major change in the way science is done, the use of digital technology allowing science to break free from the shackles placed on it by traditional publication processes? Maybe.

Anyway, no time to write any more. I just remembered I have to participate in a seminar on Open Access publishing and I have to start thinking about what I’m going to say!

P.S. The Vernal Equinox happened at 16.:57 GMT today, so welcome to Spring!

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15 Responses to “BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science”

  1. Hi Peter,
    I had the same thought about how these online discussions “may well prove to be a model of how such things happen in the future.” With many other recent discussions about the pros and cons of the peer-review system, it certainly appears as though we could be at a tipping point. That said, I would worry about a scientist’s ability to protect their pre-published ideas. Perhaps doctoral training will soon include a course on what types of things to share in the public domain or not. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
    Great blog and best regards, Sam

    • Surely, as long as there is a time stamp to the sharing of results, whether it’s done in a paper journal, an on-line journal or even a press announcement or Facebook status is of secondary importance. And I agree with you Peter, the BICEP2 results are being scrutinised far more thoroughly prior to publication than if the paper had been sent to one or two referees in the traditional peer review model. But, presumably that will also happen when the journal to which they submit their paper goes through its refereeing process.

      • Hi, I’m concerned that your phrasing seems to suggest that I was in some way disagreeing with Peter. I most certainly was not. If fact I think it’s great that we are seeing early signs of a more modern peer review system. I was merely expressing one possible concern and perhaps trying to imply that some additional time and thought should be given to how such a ‘new system’ might be regulated and/or referenced etc.
        Regards, Sam

      • Sam, no I didn’t mean to imply that 😉

  2. The Vernal equinox happened at 16:57 UT as well. What a coincidence!!

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  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Is this a sign of a major change in the way science is done, the use of digital technology allowing science to break free from the shackles placed on it by traditional publication processes?”

    Shurely not in the way science is done – that will always involve ingenuity and midnight oil – but in the way it is disseminated.

  5. It was great to see the data released with the papers — as was done with WMAP and Planck, by the way. But (as with other experiments) there was very interesting not released. In this case, the maps (I,Q,U, along with noise information) would be very useful indeed.
    (They do provide figures of the maps from the papers, but not the data.)

    • telescoper Says:

      I didn’t realize that the maps were not available – I assumed they were but didn’t have time to look for myself.

  6. Does anyone else see a contradiction between “open discussion” and “Facebook”?

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter, please could you post a link to an image of a B-mode according to theory, for comparison?

  8. Adrian Burd Says:

    I agree with Peter’s thoughts on Open Access and his comments about Open Access and Social Media. I am concerned however that such a model, whilst being a great way for peer reviewing the science behind a discovery as exciting as this one, much of the more mundane (but important) science would not get peer reviewed by anyone, though I might be wrong (it would be an interesting experiment to try).

  9. […] BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science | In the Dark […]

  10. […] BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science. I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to keep up with all the BICEP2 excitement in between all the other things I’ve had to do this week but at least the blog has been generating some …  […]

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