ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Kaitlin Thaney

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 my guest is Kaitlin Thaney (Twitter).

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?

Thanks, Bora. I’m Kaitlin Thaney (also known as “Kay”) – and I come from a company called Digital Science, where I serve as the group’s spokesperson for all public-facing activities as well as manage all external partnerships. My background is deeply steeped in open science stemming from my days at Creative Commons, where I managed the science division for over four years. I was brought over to London from my Boston outpost almost a year ago to join the Digital Science team, and help launch the new technology company, which spun out of Nature – the scientific journal.

I’m a technologist at my core, getting into science and infrastructure from a rather unscientific base (I started off as a journalist for The Boston Globe covering crime and the occasional scandal). I had always been interested in making information easier to access, originally from a public sector information perspective, and much in thanks to work with a First Amendment non-profit in Washington DC following a class with a gentleman named Dan Kennedy. Around that time, I met Hal Abelson, a computer science professor at MIT, and began working with him on a research alliance called iCampus – a project between Microsoft and MIT that funded faculty and student projects in education technology. After about a year of that, I found myself sharing an office with John Wilbanks, who had just come down from the World Wide Web Consortium to explore how you could extend the sharing and reuse principles that Creative Commons made so popular in film and in music to scientific research so we could accelerate discovery. And given a very personal pledge I’d made when I was 19 (you can read more about that here) to a friend with a rare disease, I decided to change course and jump on board. The rest, as they say, is history….

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

Where to start. There was breaking a big name scandal as a cub reporter at the Globe that was well … a bit controversial. At Reporter’s Committee (the First Amendment non-profit), there was my first two weeks on the job which happened to coincide with Hurricane Katrina and the Valerie Plame affair (we were the conduit for all statements made by Judy Miller, the jailed New York Times reporter). As an advocacy organisation championing better access to information, we became the hub for all access and information issues – even preserving raw footage from Katrina and locating loved ones – which was entirely unexpected, but exhilarating.

My time at Creative Commons was full of interesting projects, from following our open data work from inception to the launch of CC0 – the public domain waiver; our work with NIke, Best Buy and Yahoo to help them make their patent and innovation portfolios available for reuse for sustainability; to working with Stephen Friend to help create a commons infrastructure for Sage Bionetworks and making some incredibly high-quality data available for reuse.

There’s also my involvement with Science Foo Camp (“Sci Foo” for short), an unconference I help organise with my colleague Timo Hannay, and some absolutely outstanding folks from Google and O’Reilly. The event is now in its sixth year, bringing together 200-300 all-stars linked together by an interest in science – from Nobel laureates and entrepreneurs to postdocs and science fiction writers. It never ceases to leave me excited about science and technology.

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

Most of my time these days is spent on the road for Digital Science, speaking on the current state and future of digital research, from the implications socially, to the technical considerations one must keep in mind in order to ensure they’re building a system of maximum use to their audience, in line with that community’s behaviours and expectations.

Outside of spending time on the speaker circuit – both informally in London and on the road – I organise a number of events, including Sci Foo. While my main passion is to make research more efficient, I also love to connect people, and do so through an upcoming sister event to Science Online NC – Science Online London – as well as a side project I run with my tech partner-in-crime Matt Wood called ‘sameAs’. It’s an informal monthly geek meetup in London set in a pub, where we aim to bring together folks from all walks of life and interests around one set topic. You can find out more at . There’s a tremendous value found, in my opinion, in conversations at the fringe with those outside of your immediate circle of “usual suspects”. sameAs strives to help facilitate those interests, as well as get people to think slightly differently about topics such as sound, visualisation, impact and reputation and the like.

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

Personally, my interest lies a bit further upstream than the communication of science – in how the web can (and should) affect  the actual research process. We still are a ways away (though the technology exists) from having the efficiency that modern e-commerce systems such as Amazon or eBay allow for getting materials, doing better search. We’re getting there, and some disciplines are much further along than others, but we’re still far from having that well oiled machine that really, truly reduces some of the bottlenecks to research and allows for those at the bench to do better science. That’s where we’re focusing our attention at Digital Science – on using technology to help make knowledge discovery, information management and research administration (the “incentives” issue) easier. That to me is the most fascination aspect of how the web can really transform science, and we’re starting to see this already.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

Peter Suber’s Open Access News (if that counts as a science blog) was my first introduction into this space. On the more sciencey side, I love Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” and Vaughan Bell’s “Mind Hacks” (having had the opportunity to get to know both Derek and Vaughan at Sci Foo). There’s a treasure trove of content here, and I know I’ll forget someone key here if I try to list them all, so … I won’t try. 🙂 Perhaps I should just take a snapshot of my RSS Reader (though that’d likely just show you how backlogged I am with my reading … ).

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

The breadth of Science Online was staggering – and I tip my hat to Bora and Anton for not only bringing in such impeccable speakers, but really broadening the scope of the event beyond science blogging (where it got it’s start). I always enjoy the opportunity to put names with faces, which I was able to do at this year’s event, as well as finally join the bill (after having to unfortunately cancel a few year’s back). Absolutely tremendous job, guys, and thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Thank you so much. See you soon at Science Online London, and hopefully again in January at ScienceOnline2012.


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