ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Jason Priem

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today we chat with Jason Priem

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

Geographically, I’m a Floridian living in the frozen climes of North Carolina. Philosophically, I see my work in improving scholarly communication as the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The biggest current limit on the world-improving potential of science is the inefficiency of our antiquated communication infrastructure. If we can move the scholarly communication system into the current century, we can make science, and thereby the world, a lot better.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I like always doing new things, so I’ve moved around a lot; I was an artist, then a history and english teacher, then a web designer, and now I’m a 2nd-year PhD student in information science. I’ve worked mostly on what a lot of us are calling altmetrics–new ways of measuring scholarly impact that capture more than traditional citation could. So for instance, we’re studying the impact that scientific articles by looking on Twitter, blogs, or in Mendeley or Zotero.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Well, I’m doing a number of studies related to altmetrics; right now I’m really excited about altmetrics11, a workshop we’re putting on this summer that will showcase some of the great emerging research into altmetrics. (Shameless plug: we’re still accepting submissions through March; see

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

It’s tough to pick one. But right now I’m incredibly excited about the potential of the web to decouple the traditional functions of the scientific journal. Right now, journals distribute, certify, archive, and register scientific knowledge…but what if we separated those functions out, and let the market improve each one individually?

A service like ArXiv can provide free archiving and distribution. Why not just overlay peer review on top of that, as a service? I could add multiple peer-review “stamps” to the same article. I could even get a peer-review stamp for a blog post I write. As these decoupled services compete, the evolve and diversify; we get a nuanced, responsive, open way to share science.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Like a lot of other folks, I find that the speed and ease of Twitter have tended to make my blog posts more thought-out but less frequent. I’m on FriendFeed occasionally because a lot of folks I follow are, but I never entirely cottoned to it…I love the minimalism of Twitter. I’ve also really enjoyed attending some recent conferences via Twitter; I felt more present as a virtual attendee at #beyondthepdf, for example, than I have at other conferences I’ve attended IRL. So social media is not just a net positive, but an essential part of my work.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

I really enjoyed the sense of community, the open-mindedness, and the energy at SciO. It was great being around so many people for whom “well, we’ve always done it that way” wasn’t an ok answer. I think one improvement I’d suggest would be to make even more use of synchronous technologies like EtherPad to involve participants in sessions in real time. Talking is great, but it’s serial; the online environment lets us add a background of parallel cognition that can really enhance a session.

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, or to your science reading and writing?

Well, our altmetrics session was amazing (for me, anyway); there were some really useful ideas and questions that have helped to inform my work since. It was also really great getting to talk with some of the industry folks who are really pushing scholarly communication forward, like Sara from PLoS, Jan and Jason from Mendeley, and Lou from Nature Blogs.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.


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