Medpedia, the Medical Wikipedia, is Dead. And we Missed its Funeral…

12 07 2013

In a post about Wikipedia in 2009 I suggested that initiatives like Ganfyd or Medpedia, might be a solution to Wikipedia’s accuracy and credibility problems, because only health experts are allowed to edit or contribute to the content of these knowledge bases.

MedPedia is a more sophisticated platform than Ganfyd, which looks more like a simple medical encyclopedia. A similar online encyclopedia project with many medical topics, Google Knol, was discontinued by Google as of May 1, 2012.

But now it appears Medpedia may have followed Google KNOL into the same blind alley.

Medpedia was founded in 2007 [2a] by James Currier, an entrepreneur and investor [2b], and an early proponent of social media. He founded the successful Tickle in 1999, when the term Web 2.0 was coined, but not yet mainstream. And his list of  investments is impressive: Flickr, Branchout and Goodreads for instance.

On its homepage Medpedia was described as a “long term, worldwide project to evolve a new model for sharing and advancing knowledge about health, medicine and the body.”
It was developed in association with top medical schools and organizations such as Harvard, Stanford, American College of Physicians, and the NHS. Medpedia was running on the same software and under the same license as Wikipedia and aimed both at the public and  the experts. Contrary to Wikipedia only experts were qualified to contribute to the main content (although others could suggest changes and new topics). [3, 4 , 5, 6] In contrast to many other medical wikis, Medpedia featured a directory of medical editor profiles with general and Medpedia-specific information. This is far more transparent than wikis without individual author recognition [5].

Although promising, Medpedia never became a real success. Von Muhlen wrote in 1999 [4] that there were no articles reporting success metrics for Medpedia or similar projects. In contrast, Wikipedia remains immensely popular among patients and doctors.

Health 2.0 pioneers like E-Patient Dave (@ePatientDave) and Bertalan Meskó (@berci) saw Medpedia’s Achilles heel right from the start:

Bertalan Meskó at his blog Science Roll [7]:

We need Medpedia to provide reliable medical content? That’s what we are working on in Wikipedia.

I believe elitism kills content. Only the power of masses controlled by well-designed editing guidelines can lead to a comprehensive encyclopaedia.

E-patient Dave (who is a fierce proponent of participatory medicine where everyone, medical expert or not, works in partnership to produce accurate information), addresses his concern in his post

“Medpedia: Who gets to say what info is reliable?” [8]

The title says it all. In Dave’s opinion it is “an error to presume that doctors inherently have the best answer” or as Dave summarizes his concern: “who will vet the vetters?”

In addition, Clay Shirky noted that some Wikipedia entries like the biopsy-entry were far more robust than the Medpedia entries [9,10 ].

Ben Toth on the other hand found the Atrial Fibrillation-Medpedia item better than the corresponding Wikipedia page in some respects, but less up-to-date [11].

In her Medpedia review in the JMLA medical librarian Melissa Rethlefsen [5] concludes that “the content of Medpedia is varied and not clearly developed, lacks topical breadth and depth and that it is more a set of ideals than a workable reference source. Another issue is that Medpedia pages never ranked high, which means its content was hardly findable in today’s Google-centric world.

She concludes that for now (2009) “it means that Wikipedia will continue to be the medical wiki of choice”.

I fear that this will be forever, for Medpedia ceased to exist.

I noticed it yesterday totally by coincidence: both my Medpedia blog badge  and Mesko’s Webicina-“Medical Librarianship in Social Medicine”-wiki page were redirected to a faulty page.

I checked the Internet, but all I could find was a message at Wikipedia:

‘It appears that Medpedia is now closed but there is no information about it closing. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds are still open but they have not been updated in a few years. Their webpage now goes to a spam site.

I checked the Waybackmachine and found the “last sparks of life” at January 2013:

11-7-2013 23-57-49 waybackmachine medpedia

This morning I contacted Medpedia’s founder James Currier, who kindly and almost instantly replied to all my questions.

These are shown (with permission) in entirety below.


[me: ] I hope that you don’t mind that I use LinkedIn to ask you some questions about Medpedia.

{James:] I don’t mind at all!

Is Medpedia dead? And if so, why was it discontinued?

For now it is. We worked on it for 6 years, had a fantastic team of developers, had fantastic partners who supported us, had a fantastic core group of contributors like yourself, and I personally spent millions of dollars on it. In other words, we gave it a really good effort. But it never got the sort of scale it needed to become something important. So for the last two years, we kept looking for a new vision of what it could become, a new mission. We never found one, and it was expensive to keep running.
In the meantime, we had found a new mission that Medpedia could not be converted into, so we started a new company, Jiff, to pursue it. “Health Care in a Jiff” is the motto. Jiff continues the idea of digitizing healthcare, and making it simple and transparent for the individual, but goes after it in a very different way. More info about Jiff here: and here has taken our time and attention, and hopefully will produce the kinds of benefits we were hoping to see from Medpedia.

Why weren’t people informed and  was Medpedia quietly shut down?

We definitely could have done a better job with that! I apologize. We were under a tight time frame due to several things, such as people leaving the effort, technical issues around where the site was being hosted, and corporate and tax issues after 6 years of operating. So it was rushed, and we should have figured out a way to do a better job of communicating.

Couldn’t the redirection to the spam-site be prevented? And can you do something about it?

I didn’t know about that! I’ll look into it and find out what’s going on.*

Your LinkedIn profile says you’re still working for MedPedia. Why is that? Are there plans to make a new start, perhaps? And how?

Yes, I haven’t updated my LinkedIn profile in a while. I just made that change. We have no current plans to restart Medpedia. But we’re always looking for a new mission that can be self sustaining! Let me know if you have one.

And/or do you have (plans for) other health 2.0 initiatives?

Jiff is our main effort now, and there’s a wonderful CEO, Derek Newell running it.

I know you are a busy man, but I think it is important to inform all people who thought that Medpedia was a good initiative.

Thank you for saying you thought it was a good initiative. I did too! I just wish it had gotten bigger. I really appreciate your questions, and your involvement. Not all projects flourish, but we’ll all keep trying new ideas, and hopefully one will break out and make the big difference we hope for.

*somewhat later James gave an update about the redirection:

By the way, I asked about the redirect, and found out that that that page is produced by our registrar that holds the URL

We wanted to put up the following message and I thought it was up:

“Medpedia was a great experiment begun in 2007.
Unfortunately, it never reached the size to be self sustaining, and it ceased operations in early 2013.
Thank you to all who contributed!”

I’m going to work again on getting that up!


I have one question left : what happened with all the materials the experts produced? Google Knol gave people time to export their contributions. Perhaps James Currier can answer that question too.

I also wonder why nobody noticed that Medpedia was shut down. Apparently it isn’t missed.

Finally I would like to thank all wo have contributed to this “experiment”. As a medical librarian, who is committed to providing reliable medical information, I still find it a shame that Medpedia didn’t work.

I wish James Currier all the best with his new initiatives.


  1. The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information
    ( (2009/09/14)
  2. [a] Medpedia and [b] James Currier , last edited at 6/30/13*  and 7/12/13 respectively (
  3. Laurent M.R. & Vickers T.J. (2009). Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter?, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 16 (4) 471-479. DOI:
  4. von Muhlen M. & Ohno-Machado L. (2012). Reviewing social media use by clinicians, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 19 (5) 777-781. DOI:
  5. Rethlefsen M.L. (2009). Medpedia, Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 97 (4) 325-326. DOI:
  6. Medpedia: Reliable Crowdsourcing of Health and Medical Information ( (2009/7/24)
  7. Launching MedPedia: From the perspective of a Wikipedia administrator ( (2009/2/20)
  8. Medpedia: Who gets to say what info is reliable? ( (2009/2/20)
  9. Clay Shirky at MLA ’11 – On the Need for Health Sciences Librarians to Rock the Boat ( (2011
  10. Wikipedia vs Medpedia: The Crowd beats the Experts (
  11. Medpedia and Wikipedia ( (2009/10/08)
  12. Jiff wants to do for employer wellness programs what WordPress did for blogs (
  13. Jiff Unveils Health App Development Platform, Wellness Marketplace (

Collaborating and Delivering Literature Search Results to Clinical Teams Using Web 2.0 Tools

8 08 2010

ResearchBlogging.orgThere seem to be two camps in the library, the medical and many other worlds: those who embrace Web 2.0, because they consider it useful for their practice and those who are unaware of Web 2.0 or think it is just a fad. There are only a few ways the Web 2.0-critical people can be convinced: by arguments (hardly), by studies that show evidence of its usefulness and by examples of what works and what doesn’t work.

The paper of Shamsha Damani and Stephanie Fulton published in the latest Medical Reference Services Quarterly [1] falls in the latter category. Perhaps the name Shamsha Damania rings a bell: she is a prominent twitterer and has written quest posts at this blog on several occasions (here, herehere and here)

As clinical librarians at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Shamsha and Stephanie are immersed in clinical teams and provide evidence-based literature for various institutional clinical algorithms designed for patient care.

These were some of the problems the clinical librarians encountered when sharing the results of their searches with the teams by classic methods (email):

First, team members were from different departments and were dispersed across the sprawling hospital campus. Since the teams did not meet in person very often, it was difficult for the librarians to receive timely feedback on the results of each literature search. Second, results sent from multiple database vendors were either not received or were overlooked by team members. Third, even if users received the bibliography, they still had to manually search for and locate the full text of articles. The librarians also experimented with e-mailing EndNote libraries; however, many users were not familiar with EndNote and did not have the time to learn how to use it. E-mails in general tended to get lost in the shuffle, and librarians often found themselves re-sending e-mails with attachments. Lastly, it was difficult to update the results of a literature search in a consistent manner and obtain meaningful feedback from the entire team.

Therefore, they tried several Web 2.0 tools for sharing search results with their clinical teams.
In their article, the librarians share their experience with the various applications they explored that allowed centralization of the search results, provided easy online access, and enabled collaboration within the group.

Online Reference Management Tools were the librarians’ first choice, since these are specifically designed to help users gather and store references from multiple databases and allow sharing of results. Of the available tools, Refworks was eventually not tested, because it required two sets of usernames and passwords. In contrast, EndNote Web can be accessed from any computer with a username and password. Endnoteweb is suitable for downloading and managing references from multiple databases and for retrieving full text papers as well as  for online collaboration. In theory, that is. In practice, the team members experienced several difficulties: trouble to remember the usernames and passwords, difficulties using the link resolver and navigating to the full text of each article and back to the Endnote homepage. Furthermore, accessing the full text of each article was considered a too laborious process.

Next, free Social bookmarking sites were tested allowing users to bookmark Web sites and articles, to share the bookmarks and to access them from any computer. However, most team members didn’t create an account and could therefore not make use of the collaborative features. The bookmarking sites were deemed ‘‘user-unfriendly’’, because  (1) the overall layout and the presentation of results -with the many links- were experienced as confusing,  (2) sorting possibilities were not suitable for this purpose and (3) it was impossible to search within the abstracts, which were not part of the bookmarked records. This was true both for Delicious and Connotea, even though the latter is more apt for science and medicine, includes bibliographic information and allows import and export of references from other systems. An other drawback was that the librarians needed to bookmark and comment each individual article.

Wikis (PBWorks and SharePoint) appeared most user-friendly, because they were intuitive and easy to use: the librarians had created a shared username and password for the entire team, the wiki was behind the hospital’s firewall (preferred by the team) and the users could access the articles with one click. For the librarians it was labor-consuming as they annotated the bibliographies, published it on the wiki and added persistent links to each article. It is not clear from the article how final reference lists were created by the team afterwards. Probably by cut & paste, because Wikis don’t seem suitable as a Word processor nor  are they suitable for  import and export of references.

Some Remarks

It is informative to read the pros and cons of the various Web 2.0 tools for collaborating and delivering search results. For me, it was even more valuable to read how the research was done. As the authors note (quote):

There is no ‘‘one-size-fits-all’’ approach. Each platform must be tested and evaluated to see how and where it fits within the user’s workflow. When evaluating various Web 2.0 technologies, librarians should try to keep users at the forefront and seek feedback frequently in order to provide better service. Only after months of exploration did the librarians at MD Anderson Cancer Center learn that their users preferred wikis and 1-click access to full-text articles. Librarians were surprised to learn that users did not like the library’s link resolvers and wanted a more direct way to access information.

Indeed, there is no ‘‘one-size-fits-all’’ approach. For that reason too, the results obtained may only apply in certain settings.

I was impressed by the level of involvement of the clinical librarians and the time they put not only in searching, but also in presenting the data, in ranking the references according to study design, publication type, and date and in annotating the references. I hope they prune the results as well, because applying this procedure to 1000 or more references is no kidding. And, although it may be ideal for the library users, not all librarians work like this. I know of no Dutch librarian who does. Because of the workload such a ready made wiki may not be feasible for many librarians .

The librarians starting point was to find an easy and intuitive Web based tool that allowed collaborating and sharing of references.
The emphasis seems more on the sharing, since end-users did not seem to collaborate via the wikis themselves. I also wonder if the simpler and free Google Docs wouldn’t fulfill most of the needs. In addition, some of the tools might have been perceived more useful if users had received some training beforehand.
The training we offer in Reference Manager, is usually sufficient to learn to work efficiently with this quite complex reference manager tool. Of course, desktop software is not suitable for collaboration online (although it could always be easily exported to an easier system), but a short training may take away most of the barriers people feel when using a new tool (and with the advantage that they can use this tool for other purposes).

In short,

Of the Web 2.0 tools tested, wikis were the most intuitive and easy to use tools for collaborating with clinical teams and for delivering the literature search results. Although it is easy to use by end-users, it seems very time-consuming for librarians, who make ready-to-use lists with annotations.

Clinical teams of MD Anderson must be very lucky with their clinical librarians.

Damani S, & Fulton S (2010). Collaborating and delivering literature search results to clinical teams using web 2.0 tools. Medical reference services quarterly, 29 (3), 207-17 PMID: 20677061

Are you a Twitter user? Tweet this!


Added: August 9th 2010, 21:30 pm

On basis of the comments below (Annemarie Cunningham) and on Twitter (@Dymphie – here and here (Dutch)) I think it is a good idea to include a figure of one of the published wiki-lists.

It looks beautiful, but -as said- where is the collaborative aspect? Like Dymphie I have the impression that these lists are no different from the “normal” reference lists. Or am I missing something? I also agree with Dymphie that instructing people in Reference Manager may be much more efficient for this purpose.

It is interesting to read Christina Pikas view about this paper. At her blog Christina’s Lis Rant (just moved to the new Scientopia platform) Christina first describes how she delivers her search results to her customers and which platforms she uses for this. Then she shares some thoughts about the paper, like:

  • they (the authors) ruled out RefWorks because it required two sets of logins/passwords – hmm, why not RefWorks with RefShare? Why two sets of passwords?
  • SharePoint wikis suck. I would probably use some other type of web part – even a discussion board entry for each article.
  • they really didn’t use the 2.0 aspects of the 2.0 tools – particularly in the case of the wiki. The most valued aspects were access without a lot of logins and then access to the full text without a lot of clicks.

Like Christina,  I would be interested in hearing other approaches – particularly using newer tools.

Twitter Lists of Medical and other Scientific Journals

6 11 2009

In the previous two posts (“Biomedical Journals on Twitter” and List(s) of Tweeting Journals: Your Votes Please!) I introduced the Google-spreadsheet of (Bio-)medical Journals, manually compiled by the concerted effort of many people on Twitter. At a certain point other non-biomedical scientific journals were added, which made the list more complete, but less useful for most health care people, for whom the list was designed. In the last post I therefore asked people whether they preferred one complete list (as it was), one lists with different tabs for each discipline or different spreadsheets.

The results of the poll:

5-11-2009 17-51-47 results poll

Twenty-seven people responded. Although this is a small sample, it is clear that people either preferred one separate medical or biomedical list (30% and 26%) or one spreadsheet with all types of journals on separate tabs (33%). There was little or no interest in separate lists or all journals on one lists (without separation in tabs).

Discussion about the design of the spreadsheet has become somewhat superfluous by the recent roll out of Twitter Lists. The Twitter List feature is designed to make following and suggesting groups of tweeters easier. Everyone on Twitter can make up 20 lists of maximal 500 Twitter/people each. On the web you can easily add each account you like to your lists.

I have created 3 Twitter Journal List. In line with the outcome of the poll, I made  completely overlapping sets, where the Medical journal set is part of the Biomedical journal set, which belongs to the All/Science set.

If you’re on Twitter you can follow these three journal lists:

The spreadsheet still forms the basis. You can make adjustments here and if you mark them (color) or let me know, I will include them in the Twitter lists.
Found any new journals/magazines? Please feel free to add them.

If you’re interested in following (bio-)medical and/or scientific journals you can follow the list(s) you want, or your own selection from the journals in the lists.

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List(s) of Tweeting Journals: Your Votes Please!

8 08 2009

In the previous post “Biomedical Journals on Twitter” I showed a spreadsheet of biomedical Journals

This list was made on request of and for doctors, hence the original list name: Medical Journals.

As this Google-spreadsheet serves as a wiki, anyone (having g-mail) can edit the list. This was quite successful, as there were many additions made.

However, some of the journal titles I would not regard as biomedical. For instance purely (analytical) chemistry, physics, social sciences or history Journals. To me, Medical Biology is Medicine, Biology and disciplines on the interface (histology, anatomy, etc).

But let’s not discuss semantics and be practical. How would you like to see it?

Just like it is (see here) , with all disciplines mixed, all disciplines in a different spreadsheet or one spreadsheet with different tabs (per discipline).
In case of the latter two options, we could also add humanities/social sciences, such as suggested by Dean Giustini

7-8-2009 0-38-37 giustini spreadsheet journals

I made a (non-editable)* sample of a spreadsheet with different tabs per discipline to see what it looks like: see here
Below is only a Figure (showing the Medical Tab). Click to enlarge.

4-8-2009 17-57-28 spreadsheet twitter journals with tabs

The choice is yours.

*The alternative spreadsheet is not editable, because it is not manageable to have two spreadsheets. Data might get lost.

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The OpenECGproject: an admirable Web 2.0 initiative

18 12 2008

Web 2.0 is often considered to be a hype for techies, a buzz word. It certainly is not accepted as a reliable and useful tool in the official medical community, at least not the academic world where I work.

But Web 2.0 is more than just web 2.0 tools for geeks, it refers to changes in the ways software developers and end-users use the internet. “Web 2.0 is a trend in the use of World Wide Web technology that aims to facilitate creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. i.e. by developing web-based communities such as social-networking sites, wikis and blogs.

A very nice example of a new medical use of web 2.0 is the openEGCproject, recently founded by the Kroatian Emergency Physician and IT-geek Ivor Kovic, I recently “met” on twitter.
It is mainly in the form of a wiki, and I fully agree with Giskin of Medical Humanities that this collaborative open-source wikis is very well designed and easy to navigate and not as cluncky as many other wiki’s which are out on the net.

The mission and goals of the openEGCproject are:

To develop an open source, low cost, and clinically functional electrocardiography solution.
The ultimate goal is to produce a 12-lead PC-based ECG with interpretive software, but the first step is develop a 3-lead PC-based ECG, including both hardware and non-interpretive software. Additional goals include design versions for handheld devices and development of a
wireless ECG device.

The main aim of the project is to enable doctors who have poor access to and/or can’t afford expensive commercially available medical equipment, i.e. doctors in developing countries, rural areas, outreach centers (Australia) to develop their own safe, low cost and clinically useful ECGs. It also serves an educational purpose.

The electrocardiogram (ECG) is a vital clinical tool doctors use to assess numerous and sometimes life threatening heart conditions, like myocardial infarction. It is important to have readily access to such a vital diagnostic tool.


The solution is open, which means “free”. It success depends on the contribution of volunteers.

With Medgadget, an independent on-line journal covering the latest medical gadgets and technologies, I would like to call on anyone to visit the site,, promote it and recommend it to others, and if possible contribute to its content.

You can also stay up to date with the newest advancements, by subscribing to the openEGCproject blog or to follow the openEGCproject on Twitter.
In addition you can subscribe to their YouTube channel.

You can get Medgadgets for your blog or website here:


Het openEGCproject is een initiatief van de Kroatische intensivist Ivor Kovic. Met anderen heeft hij een open wiki gemaakt met het doel om artsen die geen toegang hebben tot commercieel beschikbare ECG-programma’s toch in staat te stellen een ECG te maken. Het gaat dan vooral om artsen in de ontwikkelingslanden, die werken in afgelegen gebieden en/of die niet over voldoende financiele middelen beschikken. Het is een open source project, hetgeen wil zeggen dat het vrij beschikbaar is voor idereen èn dat iedereen eraan mee kan werken. Het uiteindelijk succes hangt daarmee ook af van de inbreng.

Het open-ecg-project is een wiki, die u hier kunt bezoeken. Het is erg overzichtelijk en goed van opzet. Indien U wilt kunt u er ook een inhoudelijke bijdrage aan leveren. U kunt ook op de hoogte blijven door een feed te nemen op het blog van het openEGCproject of door het openEGCproject op Twitter te volgen. Het openEGCproject heeft ook een eigen YouTube kanaal, waarin o.a. een video is over het openEGCproject (niet al te beste kwaliteit).

Hier kunt u codes voor Medgadgets voor op uw blog of website vinden, zoals:

Google spreadsheet as a wiki.

12 12 2008

google-doc-logoGoogle has developed so many new applications in short time, it is difficult to keep abreast of the latest developments.

One useful application is Google Docs. which is a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.

During the Spoetnik Library 2.0 course we used Google Docs to write documents together, which we published on our blogs.

You can also choose to keep documents private. The advantage compared to MS Office is that you can access your docs anywhere from the web. All you need istweet-clin-cases-and-images to log into your Google account.

Ves Dimov of the Clinical Cases and Images – Blog draw my attention to an option in Google Spreadsheets (try-out here) , whereby you can allow people to edit the item as if it were a wiki.

This option was described at the Google Operating System Blog, with unofficial news and tips about Google) as follows:

“Google Spreadsheets added an option in the sharing dialog that allows anyone to view or edit the spreadsheet just by knowing the URL. Until now, you had to send an invitation URL that contained a secret code and the people you invited had to login using a Google account. If you click on the Share tab and enable “Let people edit without signing in*“, your spreadsheet becomes a wiki that can be edited by anyone.”


Not only has Ves described this possibility in a blogpost, he also set up a spreadsheet that lists “The best medical podcasts”.** Anybody can edit the list, see the original spreadsheet here and you are all invited to do so..

According to Ves (and Google) you can easily embed the Medical Podcast spreadsheet by just copying this HTML code in your own website. Alas, blogs appear to be a notable exception (again Grrr!).

Thus, to see how the spreadsheet evolves you have to go to the URL, Ves’s blogpost here or embed the spreadsheet yourselves.

To give you an impression I will show a figure of the (provisional) embedded spreadsheet instead:


* original text: Anyone can edit this document WITHOUT LOGGING IN

** a closer look at the date revealed that the blogpost already stems from May 2008.


nl vlag NL flagGoogle Spreadsheets (try-out hier) is een, gratis, Excel-achtig bestand binnen Google Docs waar je online vanaf elke PC met internetaansluiting aan kunt werken, – zonder gebruik te hoeven maken van usb-sticks of e-mail- (zie Spoetnik-cursus, week 8). Je kunt alleen of samen aan een document werken.

Door Ves Dimov van het Clinical Cases and Images – Blog werd ik geattendeerd op een optie binnen Google Spreadsheets, waardoor mensen niet ingelogd hoeven te zijn om mee te werken aan je spreadsheet. De spreadsheet functioneert dan als een soort wiki.

Deze mogelijkheid werd reeds in mei dit jaar beschreven op het Google Operating System Blog. Wanneer je een Google spreadsheet hebt aangemaakt, kun je in het dialoogvenster aangeven dat je de spreadsheet wilt delen (“share tab“) en dat mensen het kunnen bewerken zonder in te loggen (“Let people edit without signing in*). De URL, (gemarkeerd bij 4 in bovenstaand figuur) kun je naar andere mensen sturen die het vervolgens kunnen bewerken. Belangrijk is om de spreadsheet daarna op te slaan en af te sluiten.

Ves heeft gelijk de daad bij het woord gevoegd en een lijst van beste medische podcasts toegevoegd, die eenieder kan bewerken. De oorspronkelijke spreadsheet vind je door hier te klikken.

Mij lukte het niet om deze spreadsheet te embedden in WordPress. Dus om de lijst van beste medische podcasts “real time” te kunnen zien kun je naar Ves’s blogpost gaan, de URL bekijken en/of deze zelf embedden.

#Sciblog – a bird-eye’s view from the camera

2 09 2008

Last Saturday I learned from @AJCann and @Jobadge (Twitter) that there was a Science Blogging Conference going on in London, that you could virtually attend.

Although I planned to do something else (banking for my mom, pick up my daughter from her overnight stay; Saturday is my-shopping-&-bodyshape-sauna- & blogging-if-I-have-some-spare-time-day), I decided to follow it. In the meantime I tried to blog about something else, which didn’t work.

I largely followed Cameron Neylon’s streamed video on Mogulus. It’s main value was the audio-stream, as well as the candid-camera function peeping at the audience from behind.

I came in late (back from banking) and unfortunately missed the Keynote lecture of Ben Goldacre from Badscience.

The next session didn’t do it for me, partly because the 3 blogging ladies ( Jenny Rohn, Grrl Scientist, Anna Kushnir) were almost inaudible and what they had to say about the bridging function of blogs between scientists and the general public (also figuratively) didn’t catch my ears. In the meantime the virtual attendents including, Fang (Mike Seyfang) from Australia, AJCann, some other guys and me, chatted in Cameron Neylon’s room.

In between I followed Twitter-messages having the hashtag #sciblog (see here). I was not familiar with hashtags, but it is a predefined tag you can add to you microblogging post to easily tract what is being said about a subject (even when you don’t actually follow the persons themselves, so as a spin off you can get acquainted with some real interesting people).

Example of a twitter message on #sciblog:

#sciblog matt woods: friendfeed encourages discussion and closes feedback loop 9 minutes ago from TwitKit

However, Hashtags is an opt-in service. You must follow @hashtags -and it has to follow you- for the service to index your tweets, so it took me some time to get it done (For more information, see this twitter wiki.) Althoug the procedure in itself was very effective, the twitter messages didn’t add much value for people already attending.

Another online backchannel, the Friendfeed room appeared more lively, but I soon stopped following the threads. Furthermore I ‘m so old-fashioned that I think speakers do deserve my attention while they’re talking (but perhaps that is because I’m not yet used to chatting at the back-scene). Checking my notes afterwards with the Friendfeed comments was useful however.

Next I followed Matt Wood’s introduction to microblogging and aggregation services and Breakout 6 “Communicating Primary Research Publicly” by Heather Etchevers (Human in Science), Jean-Claude Bradley (Useful Chemistry) and Bob O’Hara (Deep Thoughts and Silliness).

I found these presentations interesting, but tracking my notes back I couldn’t see where Matt ended and the others began.

During his lively presentation with a lot of gesturing, the heavy “sequencer” Matt Wood from “Green is Good” told us he had decided not to worry to be open and just send the message out to the public. You could use blogs to communicate your scientific findings, but blogposts do not handle versioning, although you can sometimes manipulate the post’s date (WordPress blog). Another tool is microblogging services. Twitter is more of a social platform, whereas Friendfeed is more apt for more information-exchange (no 140 character-limit). A new microblogging service is (see for instance this readwriteweb post)

Labnote books (and wiki’s) were a recurrent subject through the 4 presentations. They are very useful to blog primary research. People should write their motives, use it as a diary (writing down all details and circumstances), recording the results (videorecording, freehand sketches, figures, prints, text), followed by periodic summing up.

Why this is useful?

  • You don’t have to remember it (people tend to forget) (although some lab-scientists don’t like to take the notebook along to the bench)
  • Archive of ideas, (to share with people in the lab, collaborators or even ‘the world’
  • (If open) some results may be available direct outside the lab, which may be very useful for cooperation and exchange of thoughts or help (why did my blot fail?-how to proceed?)
  • It may help as a bridge to the public, i.e. by showing if public money is being spent well or for direct communication of your data to the public.
  • The info is verifiable if you link to the real data
  • Science is far more efficient this way and results are revealed instantly. Why wait till everything is distilled out? The scientist’s approach is as Hans Ricke quoted Richard Feyman from his Nobel Lecture 1966 (at Bob o’Hara ‘s blog) :

“We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea first, and so on. So there isn’t any place to publish, in a dignified manner,what you actually did in order to get to do the work.”

As Hans said blogs may fill that hole, because they are the place to publish this!

Major Pitfall may be that journals may not accept data reported on a wiki. And another that some people may run away with your ideas. By writing it all down you make it very easy on them. Still if everybody would become open…. For Science that would be a great good.

What I liked most of these presentations is the openness and the creativity of the presenters.
As a (medical) librarian and a scientist these thoughts came to my mind:

  • I’m a bit jealous that I worked as a scientist in the web 1.0 era. This way of approaching science looks very stimulating to me, but maybe that’s only a romantic look from the outside?
  • How do we as librarians step in? Can we play a facilitating role? Should these primary findings be aggregated and made available in a searchable way?
    We should at least keep more in pace with the new scientific developments and the way researchers exchange and find their information. It’s entirely different to what we are used to. (we= most librarians I know, including myself)
  • I wonder if such an approach could also be used in medicine and/or in EBM. Are wiki’s like this useful for CATs for instance? Question, PICO + domain, best study type, search, critical appraisal, summary, power point presentation, pdf-files, video of CAT etc??? link to video of casus perhaps?

To get an impression of the great features of such a wiki/open notebook, take a look at (Jean Claude Bradley). You can also go to the Useful Chemistry blog and click at “UsefulChem wiki”. Note for instance the links to the notebooks of the individual scientists. Really impressive.

Below you also find the (short) presentation of Heather. Hope the others will follow soon and share their presentations

more about “Sciblog2008 Etchevers“, posted with vodpod
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