Let’s gist Again

Jure Triglav is the initiator of ScienceGist.

Jure Triglav is the initiator of ScienceGist.

Here it is! Our second interview about interesting topics in the wide space of publishing and communication in academia. This time we interviewed Jure Triglav who has started the interesting project ScienceGist. Read about Jure and his effort to open the spectrum of science communication.

  You recently started out with Science Gist. What is Science Gist about and how did you come up with the idea?

I launched Science Gist at the Hack4Ac hackathon in July this year, so yes you could say it’s quite recent. The “too long; didn’t read” version is that Science Gist is a completely free and open source central repository of crowd-sourced simplified summaries of scientific papers. The idea of simplifying scientific communication came from Jorge Cham’s talk on the subject at TEDxUCLA. His explanation of the science news cycle and how it distorts information that goes through it, made me realize on the one hand, how important it could be to find a way to circumvent it and on the other hand, how simple it would be to solve this problem from a technical standpoint. Fighting media misinformation by connecting scientists directly to the general public seemed like a very worthy goal. So I started coding…   What is the difference between the abstract of an article and the Science Gist version of the text (the gist)? It really depends, but generally the language of an abstract still presents a big barrier to the general public, because it is full of highly specialized field-specific terms. A perfect gist of the same paper would contain words which are as simple as possible while still retaining all of the crucial information present in the paper itself. However gists are not meant to be the final stop when reading a paper, but rather as an accessible entry to the incredibly deep scientific rabbit hole. This is why we recommend linking complex terms in gists to their relevant explanations on Wikipedia and other sources, which is also something that is not done in abstracts.   How do you produce the gist text? There are two ways for a gist to be added to Science Gist currently: gists are either written by users of Science Gist, or added automatically from an outside source (currently only eLife’s digests). Ideally the person to write the gist would be the author of the paper, but we’re still figuring out how to incentivize authors to write gists and would love to hear ideas anyone has about this. One very strong incentive we’re striving for is to make gists citable so authors could get credit for writing them.   Academic communication is a widely discussed matter at the moment. What is in your eyes currently broken about the system? I wouldn’t say that the current system of scientific communication is necessarily broken (if we ignore publishing), after all it has quite remarkably stood the test of time. However I would say that in the age of the internet, there are many ways we can extend the current system to make it better for certain tasks, like Science Gist is trying to do for communication with the general public. There’s currently an ongoing shift towards realizing the importance of media presence/social networks presence not only for promoting your own scientific work but also to foster completely new ideas by exposing more people to it. Scientists are realizing that the opening of science really is a good thing and that their work’s value will be enhanced and not diminished if it is accessible to more people.   What did you do before you started Science Gist? I have a bit of an interesting or even weird career story so far, which funnily enough seems to be the case for many people in the open science movement. I finished medical school about 2 years ago and a week after that I was on a plane to San Francisco to start a job as a software engineer at Academia.edu. I’ve recently left Academia to pursue my own startup building specialized medical apps for doctors in Slovenia, where I now live. I’m also a published researcher in the field of laser ablation so I have a bit of first hand experience from an author’s perspective. Science Gist is one of a few side projects I run, but it’s the one I believe could have the biggest impact in the future.   How has the response been so far from scientists and universities? The response has been quite positive and it’s what keeps me going. We got off to a great start by winning the hackathon where Science Gist launched and it’s been getting better and better since. We’ve had conversations with people about starting Science Gist movements in their universities, which I think is a wonderful idea and one we’re pursuing. Recently we also accepted the first external pull request (a way to add code to a project), which means I’m technically no longer alone in maintaining Science Gist’s codebase. There have been some bumps on the road too though; some scientists take the goal of Science Gist as an attack on them and their writing, saying that if they could have written their work in a simpler manner they would have. Science Gist is really not about saying someone’s writing is bad, but is about trying to help scientists expose their work to a broader audience without constraints in the style of writing usually imposed by the scientific medium. There are quite a few meta-communication challenges ahead where we’ll have to find great ways to positively communicate Science Gist’s mission to scientists. A frequent criticism against peer-reviewed scientific journals, at least in the social sciences, is that the language in them is overly complicated because people only publish in them for career purposes and they hide that they don’t have much to say by saying it in a very complex way. Wouldn’t a project such as science gist be a problem for the authors of such texts? I’m not very familiar with the social sciences or the extent of the behavior you’re describing, but I can see how authors of said texts would feel a bit threatened by the existence of Science Gist. I would be extremely happy if Science Gist can, by way of osmosis, also help expose bad science simply by fulfilling its core purpose.   The knowledge gap between the global well educated elite and the not so privileged people is still growing. Do you see science gist as a project reducing this gap? I believe that everyone benefits from Science Gist, whether it’s people from a less developed country without access to good education, people without a college degree, or even tenured professors, in the same way everyone benefits from Wikipedia (well, maybe not Encyclopedia Britannica employees). I can’t see a single drawback to bringing science closer to the general public, in terms of the open access movement and in terms of Science Gist’s efforts. In many ways the internet is the most and maybe only successful system for closing this gap and Science Gist is simply piggybacking and hopefully enhancing its successes.   What are your future plans with science gist? In the immediate sense, there are several open issues on GitHub which serve as the project’s current tasks. Several features are coming soon: we’ve got a landing page redesign coming up with easier ways to explore Science Gist content, we’re adding resource links you can add to gists (e.g. linking a gist of a paper to a Reddit comment with a summary of the same paper) and much more. In the more long term sense, we’re hoping to figure out a great way to incentivize authors to submit gists of their papers. Science Gist was started with the full knowledge of how long it would take to achieve its goal. There are many things we need to figure out in the future and there are exciting challenges ahead. If you think what we’re doing is worthwhile, drop us an e-mail at info@sciencegist.com or tweet @ScienceGist and we’ll find something you can help us with.  

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