As already mentioned in my first blog, an increasing number of means now exist for putting out messages to selected (and especially self-selected) audiences. We already make our press releases and other material available via RSS feeds, as well as via the website. A comparatively recent innovation, which seems well suited for some of these purposes, is twitter. For those not already in the twitterverse, twitter allows brief 140-character ‘tweets’ (posts) that can be viewed by those who have chosen (signed up) to do so. BBSRC is @BBSRC and I am @dbkell. In its simplest form, the ramblings of other tweeters are seen by any tweeter only if they have signed up to follow them, so twittering can involve more of a fractured monologue than a dialogue. It does however allow all recipients to see the discourse ‘instantaneously’ and thereby capture the zeitgeist (for literature citations this has been called the citegeist…), possibly assisting the generation of the supposed Wisdom of Crowds (and at least access to one’s readership).

The discourse that is science has both formal and informal mechanisms. Probably the most formal is the classical peer review process, and while this is probably the least worst system we have evolved to date, and it has an interesting history, it is well recognised to be far from perfect. Twittering is arguably towards the informal end of the spectrum (in that peer review prior to publication of a thought is largely non-existent, albeit organisation such as arxiv.org have used this model very effectively). In between – and maybe pointing towards the future – are collaborative document tagging systems such as that described by Beel and Gipp from the Scienstein organisation that would allow the community to annotate published work in a manner more detailed than the simple tags represented by a folksonomy. This bears on the question of the persistence of material (once) accessible via the internet. While the internet archive’s WayBack machine is a useful time machine for some of the internet since 1996, many URLs describing bioinformatics resources relevant to MEDLINE have a tendency to disappear, partly due to lack of resources for their maintenance (an issue we seek to address via our BBR funding stream).

I have also been reading a few papers, such as: that by Frazer and colleagues on the largely unsuccessful (or weakly successful) programme to relate genetic variation to complex traits (the ‘missing heritability’ summarised with great clarity by Maher and reviewed in a previous blog); one about another fast graphical method (this by Langmead and colleagues) for aligning short reads from next-generation sequencing platforms onto large genomes; and a useful summary by Ruttenberg and colleagues surveying the application of the Semantic Web in the Life Sciences and the Neurocommons project.

It is of interest that this year (on May 7) is the 50th anniversary of C.P.Snow’s Two Cultures lecture. This highlighted (loosely) the lack of common understanding between those with an education in the arts and those with an education in science and technology, and the issue that much of public life was controlled by the former. Possibly the ability to find material electronically without being stuck in a particular part of a library devoted only to a single subject will allow multi- and inter-disciplinary understanding to flourish.

Finally, the Tao Te Ching had an interesting take on persistence, although its author was not necessarily thinking about commentaries on the published literature: “Work is done then forgotten; therefore it lasts forever”.

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