One of the biggest problems confronting science right now is how we deal with the floods of data (not least genomics data), and in particular how we visualise them. En route to the Science Foo camp (SciFoo) held at the Googleplex over last weekend, I was privileged to be shown, by its curator Bonnie DeVarco and her collaborator Eileen Clegg, a wonderful exhibition of scientific visualisations (data visualisations) at MediaX at Stanford. It is also online.
SciFoo itself (with the twitter hashtag #scifoo09) is a gathering of various multi- and inter-disciplinary folk from a variety of backgrounds, the common denominator (if there is one) being an interest in complex ideas for which computation can contribute to solutions. As an unconference, participants proposed sessions they were prepared to moderate/introduce, and during an opening session placed these on a whiteboard where they then self-organised as proposers merged various sessions. While much of the time was spent in conversations with many of the ca 200 other delegates, I did attend several sessions, including one on the future of artificial intelligence led by Larry Page (cofounder of Google). A main conclusion was that many tough problems in this space possibly did not require genius for their solution as much as a commitment to tackle them with adequate resources (a conclusion not inconsistent with those of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers). I also attended sessions on a variety of other topics such as personalised genomics, bibliometrics, drug discovery for orphan diseases, and on H1N1 swine flu (led by Larry Brilliant from Google whose recent paper commands attention), and led two of my own – on data-driven science and on the distributed digital human model. A small exhibition showed, inter alia, some very new approaches to ultra-high-throughput genome sequencing from Ion Torrent and from Halcyon Molecular, the latter laying out its goal as the ‘6-minute (human) genome’ for $100, and there were also various displays of books, puzzles, magic tricks, artwork and music.
All in all a very interesting and creative meeting, and one we should try and create on the European side of the pond. Stanford and its surroundings have a strong technology focus that we could do worse than emulate too.
- Ginsberg, J., Mohebbi, M. H., Patel, R. S., Brammer, L., Smolinski, M. S. & Brilliant, L. (2009). Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data. Nature 457, 1012-1014
- Kell, D. B. (2007). The virtual human: towards a global systems biology of multiscale, distributed biochemical network models. IUBMB Life 59, 689-95
- Kell, D. B. & Oliver, S. G. (2004). Here is the evidence, now what is the hypothesis? The complementary roles of inductive and hypothesis-driven science in the post-genomic era. Bioessays 26, 99-105
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