ScienceOnline’09: Interview with Bob O’Hara

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Bob O’Hara of the Deep Thoughts and Silliness blog to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific) background?
My name is Bob O’Hara, but I comment on blogs and such places under the absolutely impenetrable pseudonym of Bob O’H. I have a blog on Nature Network, called Deep Thoughts and Silliness.
I’m a full time academic, which means I get to be both a nerd and as obscure as I can manage. I used to be a plant epidemiologist, but I now work in biostatistics, mainly in ecology and evolutionary biology.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
BobO'Hara pic.jpgWhat is your Real Life job?
Butler to The Beast (pictured). It’s only a part-time position, and he pays me in cat hair, which the bank doesn’t accept. I think it must be because they don’t like Australian currency.
When I’m not acting as a resting place, I’m an Academy Fellow. The academy in question is the Academy of Finland: the position is basically that of a lecturer, only without the lecturing. I live in Helsinki, dodging the polar bears and itinerant OS developers.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I really enjoy the pissing around, rather than taking the science too seriously. But I am now becoming more interested in using online tools for collaboration, for example wikis. A lot of my work is collaborative, so I’m looking for tools to make it easier. Emailing Word documents is hardy optimal.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
I’ve used blogging to kick a few ideas around, getting one piece published, and stirring up interest with some others. I’m using wikis to help collaboration, but I think they don’t integrate well enough into usual work practices yet. I guess we’ll have to wait for Google Wave.
Other social networks don’t really figure in my work, except as excellent vehicles for prevarication. Few of my colleagues use them, so they don’t figure in my work. Hopefully that will improve.
When and how did you discover science blogs?
I can’t remember! I had looked at Panda’s Thumb a few times, but really started following it during the hilarities of the Dover trial. That dragged me into other science blogs (I know it’s not original, but Pharyngula was one of the first blogs I read – at least it was before ScienceBlogs started up).
What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
There are too many good blogs to plug! But a couple of blogs that I think should be better known are Prerogative of Harlots and Masks of Eris. Masks of Eris, in particular, should be required reading, especially if you want to understand Finland and the Finnish mentality.
I think I also have to plug Grllllllsciennntissssst, and her efforts to win a trip to Antarctica.
I didn’t discovered any new bloggers, but meeting Propter Doc reminded me to check out her blog more often.
Why did you come to the Conference?
It was mainly to meet people who I knew virtually in the flesh. I had met some poeple in London, but obviously not many Americans.
I was hoping to meet JanieBelle, but she didn’t attend, and sent her grouchy uncle Lou instead.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Probably the main thing was the discussion of Open Access. It’s something I find interesting from the sociological point of view: the technology has opened up the possibilities for OA, but acceptance of it needs some changes in the way we pay for publication. On top of simply the finances, web based publishing makes it possible to try out some very interesting ideas.
What was clear to me was that there is a large gap between the idealism of some OA advocates, and the world that most scientists inhabit. So, the idea that journals shouldn’t have to judge importance when deciding whether to publish a piece of research seems naïve: there is certainly a place for that sort of journal (as readers of this blog are well aware!), but I think the importance of publishing in a “good” journal can’t be ignored: whether we like it or not, scientists use this as a marker for the quality of their work, for gloating to their colleagues, or for judging other researchers’ output. This is part of the sociology of science: it’s how we behave as scientists. My impression is that this simply isn’t appreciated by some OA advocates, and it can make their message sound irrelevant.
As an experienced denizen of the blogosphere, I know that I don’t have to provide any answers – I can criticise as much as I want!
It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
And you. I had a lot of fun in NC, so hopefully I’ll be able to visit again next year.
See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.


2 responses to “ScienceOnline’09: Interview with Bob O’Hara

  1. I love this picture of the cat. I want one.

  2. Pingback: ScienceOnline interviews « A Blog Around The Clock