Cambridge Science Festival 2018: A fruity crime of passion 🍏🍋🍊🍓

TL;DR: Science Festival was great & kids loved it. You can re-use our materials, here.

Longer version: Last weekend was InterMine’s very first year at Cambridge’s famous Science Festival, an event designed to enthuse younger people and adults alike with awe for science. We split our time across two locations,working at our home department, Genetics, on the Saturday, and at the Cambridge Guildhall on the Sunday.

Our theme was around open science, with an activity designed to reinforce the idea that shared data (and therefore more data from different sources) results in better science. For adults we had a couple of great posters about the importance of data sharing, designed by Julie and Rachel. The posters are available freely online for re-use under a CC0 licence.

The Story: A party is rudely interrupted

Meanwhile, for kids (and some adults too!) we had a crime-solving activity. In our scenario, a dastardly fruit villain had stolen the passionfruit in the midst of an otherwise enjoyable soirée. In their haste to flee, the culprit knocked over a tin of blue paint, leaving tracks behind, as well as injuring themselves and leaving DNA evidence behind as they jumped out the window. We had four fruity suspects:

suspects-sheet.png

Solving the crime

Step 1: footprints in the paint

In order to solve the crime using science, our young detectives were invited to examine the footprints left by the culprit:

Fruit tracks at the crime scene. Excuse the glare from the plastic!
Fruit tracks at the crime scene. Excuse the glare from the plastic!

It was usually pretty easy to rule out the apple, and after thinking a little more, the strawberry could be ruled out too, but the orange and the lemon both looked rather similar.

Step 2: Juice found at the scene

Since the devilish thief had hurt themselves, we had samples to analyse. Our criminal investigators took strips of litmus paper and carefully examined the evidence:

20180318_105143

Once again, the evidence wasn’t quite conclusive (and was very sticky). Still, it was fun! Let’s move on to the next bit of evidence…

Step 3: the skin

With sample fruits to compare, our enterprising criminologists got a step closer to the solution. Could the skin be from a lemon? Hmmm.

20180318_105151

Step 4: We have samples, so let’s sequence the DNA!

Okay, so you may have guessed that we didn’t sequence the DNA of the suspects ourselves – but thankfully the lab had four profiles for us to compare to and they managed to quickly provide a DNA fragment from the crime scene evidence, too. This fragment was far more conclusive than the others, pointing unequivocally to the shadiest character of the bunch – Lithium Lemon.

Step 5: Putting the puzzle pieces together, and sabotage!

As our sleuths solved each different activity, we gave them a puzzle piece. At this stage they had four pieces of the puzzle, but they were still missing a couple of critical bits: the two central pieces. It turns out there had been some CCTV footage – but it had been stolen! After looking around, our vigilant investigators discovered where the crime scene video had been hidden (under the table) and managed to put the entire story together. Once again, shown front and centre of the puzzle was our suspect, Lithium Lemon.

fruit-bowl

 

Wrap up

While the shady character wad hauled off in cuffs to the county jail, successful detectives were rewarded with candy, some awesome stickers,  and a handout that had a child-oriented activity sheet on one side, with a small copy of our open knowledge posters on the other side, for the slightly more grown-up folks.

What we learned

Our tables were generally very busy, and the kids seemed to have a great time examining the evidence and putting together the puzzle pieces one by one. I’m not sure how many of them quite perceived the data sharing theme, but some of the adults definitely did, and appreciated the posters as well.

I think one of the biggest surprises for use was how busy we all were! Genetics had a steady flow of people, but the Guildhall had even more. We haven’t heard numbers for this year yet, but in 2017 apparently there were around 3,000 people. What that meant in practical terms for us: Two tables with identical versions of the activity, two InterMine team members acting as detective wranglers at each table, and often two separate groups of people working through the activity simultaneously at each table. After several hours of this we were all ready for a nap! Next time, six staff might be better to allow people to have a breather.

We also learned to keep a good eye on our puzzles: Five puzzles left the office on Sunday morning but only four returned. Hopefully it’ll be cherished at someone’s house as memories of a great activity…. ?

Our materials are open!

Given that our activity was designed to advocate openly sharing your science, we’ve shared our materials online too, and you’re welcome to re-use them.

https://github.com/intermine/science-festival/

This includes:

  • The fruit images (lovingly created by Rachel’s daughter!)
  • Handouts
  • Posters
  • Guidance sheets and in-depth “sciencey details” about each activity.

If you do re-use them, we’d love to hear about it! You can email info@intermine.org, tweet @intermineorg, or even open an issue on the GitHub repository.

Finally, I’d like to thank Rachel again for all the work she put into designing this scenario. It was creative, exciting, and overall seemed to be a hit!

 

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#OpenConCam: Where open (science | access | source | data) meet.

What is OpenCon?

OpenCon is a yearly event designed to bring together people who are dedicated to open in all its incarnations. It’s in such high demand, the only way to get in is by application, and most attendees are provided with scholarships to help with travel/accommodation costs.

We weren’t able to attend the international event, but thankfully there was a great satellite event running in Cambridge – OpenConCam.

OpenConCam was in itself a day filled with memorable talks and worthwhile collaborations, including:

PeerJ – (Sierra Williams)

PeerJ is an open access journal which focuses on methodological rigour  when publishing, rather than preferring groundbreaking new science – something particularly important for early career researchers. One of my favourite points from her talk was when she demonstrated the checklist that PeerJ uses to help authors disseminate their content effectively:

Open access in developing nations (Tapoka Mkandawire)

Many of us know from personal experience that accessing scientific publications even in wealthier western countries can be controversially difficult, so it’s hard to imagine how much more difficult this must be in developing countries. Thankfully, there are initiatives such as Africa Information Highway, Eifl, and Hinari which aim to make data and publications more accessible. She also discussed the cultural concept of ubuntu – sharing and caring for each other as a concept that works hand-in-hand with the open* movement.

Bullied into Bad Science (Laurent Gatto)

Bullied Into Bad Science is a campaign to help early career researchers who may be under pressure to omit or tweak their scientific results in order to gain a desired outcome or exciting publication. Laurent was clearly passionate about this subject: Sometimes the system pressures mean that successful academics are not necessarily good scientists – and things really shouldn’t be this way.

Queen B

This session was frantic! The basic premise was that the room divided into groups of 4, nominated a “queen bee” who presented a problem (in one minute), and then the group broke up and discussed possible solutions with others in the room for three minutes, reporting back over the span of two minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat until all members in a group have been queen bees. Topics I recall discussing included getting humanities more involved in open science, open source code in science, how to inspire people to publish in journals with strict open policies when they could go for a less principled journal more easily, and how to sell open* to the disinterested.

Hitting a moving target in Open Access advocacy  (Danny Kingsley)

Danny shared something dear to our hearts: Getting others involved in open. While she was specifically referring to open access, most points could easily be applied to open science, data, and source too. Her focus was on figuring out how to get the most “bang for buck” – that is, find and influence people who will pay off the most for the least effort.

Undergrads, for example, aren’t great targets as they mostly don’t continue in academia, but PIs, and government bodies may be more useful, because they have much more influence if they’re sold on open access. Similarly, sometimes it makes more sense to influence decision makers and get them to evangelise for you, if you don’t have enough authority to impress people. Make sensible decisions, and don’t run up against brick walls repeatedly if it isn’t paying off!

Focus Groups

After lunch, we had an unconference-style set of sessions, where everyone nominated topics they were interested in, and added stars beside ideas they themselves were interested in attending. The resulting sessions were:

  • Self-care in Open: Many of us volunteer time outside a normal 9-5 job to help promote open, and the environment can be discouraging or rough sometimes – not everyone is as keep on open as we are! Suggestions presented by Kirstie Whitaker included working with micro-ambitions (turning your work into small, achievable chunks rather than trying to conquer everything), and thinking of success as a spectrum. A small win is still a win!
  • Open + inclusive: Laurent Gatto pointed out in a blog post earlier this year that the Open movements aren’t always as…. open as they should be. Sometimes Open Science can fall down in the same places less open science falls down – not making sure to have a decent balance of ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation, etc. Can we do better?

  • Open source code in science: If you’re an InterMiner, you’re probably already pretty keen on open source scientific software and can see the benefit of it – but not everyone does. Many, many papers that use code to produce their scientific results don’t expose that code. But if the code isn’t in the paper, or linked to it openly in some way… how was it peer reviewed? If the code is wrong, so is the science it produces. I proposed this discussion topic, and really enjoyed perspectives from my team mates. Some of the ideas generated included:
    • Share dummy data to run your code on, if the data are proprietary or there are privacy issues.
    • Try to encourage journals to have software availability statements
    • Encouraging researchers to share their code, even if it’s only a few lines. After all, if you’ve written 6 lines of code to configure an R plot, whilst it might seem insignificant – that’s actually really easy to peer review and correct mistakes! By comparison, bigger software packages can be hundreds, thousands, or even millions of lines of code. The thought of trying to review that (beyond reviewing quality metrics like testing, documentation, and commenting) makes me a bit scared.
  • Open in the humanities: This is a fascinating subject, and I don’t think many (any?) of the audience members were in the humanities. We raised a lot of questions about the shape of humanities data.

Opening the lab door (Christie Bahlai)

After the focus groups, Christie Bahlai skyped in to talk about running an open lab. She shared some of the different types of pushback against open science:

  • Those who consider themselves too busy to share
  • People who have been pushed from ‘busy’ status to actively hostile against open science, perhaps when they were asked to participate further and didn’t wish to
  • The worried –  people who have legitimate concerns about open science (I’m sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t really believe in “anonymised personal data”).
  • The unheard – those who are disadvantaged and marginalised already worry that practising open will marginalise them further. How can we protect these people?

She also talked about getting people involved in open as early as possible, including introductions to open as part of the undergrad curriculum:

A few more of her tips:

  • Get students’ feet wet in open science by slowly introducing them to the concepts using examples in their own fields – examples they’ll care about.
  • Share your lab policies openly and don’t tolerate the “brilliant jerk” – at the end of the day no matter how productive they are, they’re still jerks.
  • Keep science a kind place. Show others that you too can fail publicly, and fail often.
  • Share your lesson plans openly, too! Christie’s “Reproducible quantitative methods” curriculum is designed to provide a good introduction to open, reproducible data wrangling using R and GitHub.

The open source investigation revolution (Eliot Higgins)

This talk was an out-of-the-blue surprise. Rather than focusing on academia like most of the previous talks, Eliot shared how open videos, photos, and “facts” on the web can be verified for journalism. If you’ve heard of doxxing, you’ll know a bit about the techniques Eliot described, using social media, satellite imagery, and other online tools to track people who don’t want to be tracked – but this time, for Good. He described how some of the white supremacist rally leaders were identified, as well as verifying missile attacks in Syria – including who perpetrated them and who was lying about it.

This talk stilled twitter’s usually vibrant #OpenConCam discussions to a halt, probably due to the riot of emotions it induced in most of the participants. We’d been shown highly disturbing images, felt fear wondering how these techniques could be misused, and we awed by the massive importance of what we’re seeing, no matter how awful it was. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person torn between wishing I’d never seen it and knowing that I had to watch it, because burying our heads in the sand isn’t an option either.

Wrap-up

OpenCon 2018 hasn’t been announced yet, but this year, all around the world, there are still satellite events like the one I attended. If you haven’t attended a conference about working openly before, this is a great way to get a taste – or if you’re a die-hard enthusiast, you’ll get the chance to meet like-minded individuals and be inspired!