A new Recruit to Open Source

We’ve got a new cybercollaborator! This is how things happen in the world of the Blue Obelisk… The exciting thing is that anyone – with hard, careful work and the respect of their peers can become a highly valuable – and hopefully visible – member. You don’t have to be at a big institution.
I got the following mail yesterday from Beth Ritter-Guth, which she is very happy for me to post:

Dear Dr. Murray-Rust:
I am a doctoral student working on an article about Open Source Science in chemistry as it relates to rhetoric and technical communication. My theory is that tech communicators will have a new role as emerging technologies make scientific data (specifically chemical) more accessible to the general public.
Your work in automation is very interesting, as I believe this is the future of how chemical data will be shared within the chemistry community. I am also interested in how Open Source Science creates collaborative space for chemists to work for the good of the global community (Synaptic Leap and Chemists without Borders). My hope is to share these concepts with technical communicators in hopes that they (as translators) can educate the general public (or other chemists) about OSS in terms of collaboration and automation.
… can you direct me toward resources that will accurately represent OSS in chemistry? I want to make sure that I am including all of the important materials in my research. I have read articles by you and Dr. Rzepa, and I work in collaboration with Jean-Claude Bradley at Drexel. I follow a host of chem blogs, as well.
Since I am not a chemist by trade, I want to make sure that I extract the best articles in the field. I am also working in a completely open format using a wiki (http://bethritterguth.wikispaces.com ), as I truly adopt and support Open Access Scholarship.

I replied to Beth saying that there had been very little scholarship done on OS in chemistry as most people in chemistry think it’s a bunch of idealists and “student hackers”. “If it’s free it can’t be any good” and they ritually pay kilobucks/year for mediocre software.
I mailed the following:

The best place is probably the Blue Obelisk mailing list. Ask for what you want and you should get a considered set of replies. I know that Geoff Hutchison had a back-to-back article with Matt Stahl (Open Eye) taking different views. I am not sure that there are many articles other than Geoff’s. Henry and I are most vocal on Open Data rather than Open Source although of course we promote it
The main other set of OS code is comp chem which includes Abinit, GULP, MOPAC-8. They are active but not religious about OS so they won’t have written anything
Would you mind if I mentioned your request on my blog?

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6 Responses to A new Recruit to Open Source

  1. pm286 says:

    Beth’s mail to PMR 2008-09-09

    Thank you, so very much, for your quick reply! Please do include my request on your blog. I am writing the proposal now and will be writing both the proposal and the article off of that site ( http://bethritterguth.wikispaces.com). I am encouraging people to stop in and make comments and correct errors. Because it is an article for a grade, I have closed the wiki, but people can add comments via the discussion tab. I also keep a journal of the “process” of working completely in the open (you know, we humanities people do our research in caves and never ever share). That is located at http://bethritterguth.easyjournal.com/
    Once the course is finished, I will be depositing the article into an OAI compliant repository and will open the wiki to others.
    I am, indeed, from the US. I teach FT at a community college (2 year junior college) in Eastern Pennsylvania. I was looking for ways to better prepare our chem and bio tech students for writing demands in their fields when I met Dr. Bradley from Drexel. He is a huge fan of yours, and directed me to your articles off of his UsefulChem wiki ( http://usefulchem.wikispaces.com). We have now formed a partnership that allows my tech writing students to work with his orgo chem students. I believe he is attending your talk at ACS, as well.
    I have found that there is, as you mention, great resistance to OSS. Some of that, I think, is a misunderstanding of the nature and scope of OSS. Patenting issues are of concern, and the thought of job elimination is also a concern. The benefits certainly outweigh any negatives; my hope is to help clarify those issues.
    My hope is to get technical communicators (the ones who write operation manuals, grants, and patent policy) interested and invested in OSS. I also hope the authors of “popular science” will become interested, as well. Since the NIH is moving toward mandating OA for taxpayer funded research, I think this is a crucial time to start evangelizing OSS.
    The world may think you are mad now, but they will be scurrying to figure life out in about 5 years. In the US, Dr. Bradley is the only person I can find with a completely OSS lab. Do you know of others?
    Thank you, again, for providing resources. I am sure you are extraordinarily busy, but, perhaps, in the future we can set up a chat via SKYPE with you, Dr. Rzepa, and Dr. Bradley about the future of OSS and the role technical writers will play.

  2. I found your article regarding the role of technical writers in Open Source Science in chemistry quite interesting. Technical writers play an important role in a number of emerging technologies. I have been involved in the field of technical communications for the past 15 years and would be interested in finding out more about this area, with the aim of passing this information on to other technical communicators.
    Warren Singer
    Cambridge, UK

  3. pm286 says:

    (2) Thanks Warren,
    Beth has given us a new perspective. For example we have used “Open Source” almost exclusively for software. The community she works in also uses OS for science – donating the results of science to the world. We had a lot of confusion here and it was certainly valuable to have a language perspective.

  4. Warren – for a link to Beth’s work between her students and mine see the UsefulChem Writing Parters page

  5. Hi Warren:
    I am interested in the role of technical communicators and open chemistry because I believe we (writers) often serve as advocates (ambassadors, translators, etc.) for funding bodies.
    To give you an example, earlier this year, Jean-Claude and I worked together or a proposal and the grant writer we worked with didn’t really take our project “seriously” because he could not grasp the idea of non-patented chemistry and partnering “lab chemists” with writing students at a community college. Since this grant writer had a background (I am assuming) in English and not science or chemistry, he was only aware of the “typical” ways in which chemical communication is shared (ie – peer reviewed journals).
    My hope in working on this scholarship is to present this material to writers through our standard modes of communication (tech comm journals). But, since I believe in open research and scholarship, I am posting it all on the wiki you looked at before posting.
    I would be happy to work with you on how best to get this message out to other tech comm writers. Thanks!

  6. pm286 says:

    (5) “…the grant writer we worked with…” Wow! how do I get one of these grant writers? We have to write our own… Does s/he do it on a no grant/no fee basis? – I expect not 🙂

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