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A Personal Digression

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The previous section focussed on the technical possibilities of changing research practice and later sections on the questions of how those changes effect communities. This section is in some ways a digression, a grab bag of personal reflections on my own motivations and concerns as well as some personal history. In other ways it sets up what will follow, illustrating the personal concerns that led me towards understanding the need to consider the deeper cultural and societal issues of what technology does with and to communities. And if one of the narrative strands in this collection is a shift from a scientific world view to one more informed by ideas from the humanities and social sciences, then these pieces also illustrate how that is not such a departure. I have always had roots in the arts; in theatre, film, and literature, but most importantly in music.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The idea of using one perspective to inform another is common throughout this collection. It appears in “Best Practice” in the previous section and appears here in two pieces where the practice of art, respectively music performance and theatre, is used to tease apart questions of expertise. The first of these, “The Serious Amateur and the Cult of Ignorance” dates from 2008 is arguably rather ham fisted. It makes broad claims that “obviously we should train more people in science” – which while I would still support I’d be likely to quibble about the “obviously” along with the implicit assumption of how easy that would be. There is a significant shift between this piece and a later one in a similar vein, “The Problem of Expertise in Stoppard’s Acardia”. The later piece, from early 2015, asks more questions and is much more open to other perspectives and other stories.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Stoppard’s play is about many things. Trust, expertise, collaboration, growing up, gardens and Romantic poetry just to begin. But one of its main themes is the toxic heart of academia. It is the interplay between the characters in the play who are scholars or academics that forms the basis of the piece. The play turns on the petty jealousies, arrogance, and betrayals but above all the way the system in which the academic characters are confined limits their ability to work effectively together. The play contrasts this with the easy collaboration between two smart people a century or more previously, more confined by social status, but less by any institutional academic system.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 If Stoppard gives us fiction, albeit a fiction that cuts very close to the bone for many academics, then this section starts with my own admission of guilt in the real world. “How I Got Into Open Science” is the story of what first drew me into this space, a story perhaps not so different from the academic characters in Stoppard’s play. My story is one of seeing an opportunity to publish, to claim a space, and as I alluded in the introduction to this book, it was the early success in doing that that drew me into continuing. It would be some years before I saw the irony of how my original motivations were directly opposed to the changes I was seeking to make. The post dates from 2008, a time when I was grappling with what felt like sudden success as measured by invitations to speak and write compared to the relative drought of the previous five years. This Open Science thing was really paying off. The story of course is related two or more years after those events, the note of (false?) modesty part of a narrative that I was still crafting for myself at the time.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Those stories, the ones we tell ourselves about what we are doing and how we are listening, as well as the ones we get tied up in, are at the centre of the penultimate piece in this section, “Arts and Sciences”. This previously unpublished piece was originally written as a section introduction for the first draft of this book. As a stand alone piece it looks at the question of who we are, those stories we tell about ourselves and others. It shows a growing interest in language and narrative, a concern with how our own stories tend to over-ride others, and in that sense an interest – at this stage certainly non-expert – in discourse analysis as a way to understand how narratives shape us. Written in 2015, in the midst of various controversies and at around the same time as “Freedom and Responsibility” it points to a widening awareness of just how complicated human interactions are.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The final piece in this section, “Touch Points”,  is included on a whim. It both fits and it doesn’t. It doesn’t in as much as it really doesn’t contribute directly to any of the narrative threads of this book. It fits this section as a very personal piece, and it fits our evolving theme in its attention on the interaction between the personal and the technical. Its core question; how do we see the opportunities and risks that new technology brings in mediating what are personal interactions, sets us up for the gradual realisation of that problem throughout the next section. But mainly I included it as illustrative of my developing interest in writing itself. I might claim an interest in the literary arts, but throughout all of this writing there has been little attention on the writing itself. This was one of the first pieces where I really worked at the words themselves, their rhythm and flow and arrangement. I’m even pretty happy with the result.

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