It's a lovely gesture but I'm really not sure I can eat poorly drawn cake

It’s a lovely gesture but I’m really not sure I can eat poorly drawn cake

One year ago this month I started a departmental blog, which became the pre-cursor of Errant Science. While I had run a blog before, OpenOptics was purely science focused and actually in my name, as opposed to a deniable pseudonym. To say I was out of my depth is a slight understatement.

But just after I started the blog I found a conference called SpotOn run by Nature which was heavily focused at helping people start sharing their science via social media, blogging, events and carrier pigeon (I may have dreamt the last one). So I persuaded the department to buy me a ticket, ran off down to London to meet lots of other open-sharing-science type people and had an awesome time. I met people that were interested in my work, I heard talks by websites offering cool new tools and I even got to hear a great discussion of how to go a bit more radical and start protesting stuff 😀

It was the right conference at the right time, just when I was starting out. Nothing helps you more with a project than listening to a roomful of people talk about why that kind of thing is important.


Neat banner logo, make me want to suppress all mockery of the slightly awkward name 😛

This year I sadly won’t be attending because neither of my contracts will pay for it :(. As a self-employed consultanty person I can’t really afford to do much off-contract and as much as I want to go I haven’t really got the disposable company income (waiting for contracts to pay).

But if you do either science or engineering that you would like more people to know about, you should go buy a ticket and here’s why.


Last year I learnt loads about ways to share data and possible pitfalls within universities. Judging by the draft program, SpotOn this year covers almost everything that comes up in the world of open science, sharing science and data management and then some. By the look of the planned sessions (copied below, with a few added notes) this year should provide everyone with a wide range of new insight into these problems.

  • Scientific misconduct: what have we learned and what can we learn?
  • Altmetrics – a look at policy issues (note: Altmetrics is an alternative way of measuring scientific output, think of it as like a journal impact factor that has been throw in the bin, recycled as a coffee cup and then used to hold the pen with which Altmetrics was designed)
  • Addressing accessibility when communicating science
  • How to encourage data sharing
  • Science games: does play work? (note: given the amount of computer games I play it better!)
  • Using social media for scientific policy studies
  • What constitutes “acceptable evidence” in evidence-based policy making?
  • How should Peer Review evolve?
  • Staying in science and doing science communication – how to have your cake and eat it (note: #nom)
  • Communicating Science in an Open Access World
  • Creative Commons journalism
  • Using blogs and other online forum for communication between scientists
  • Art-science collaborations – how to measure useful outputs? (note: spider diagrams, it’s all about the spider diagrams)
  • Strengthening the Weakest Links in the Science Communication Ecosystem
  • The Dark Art of Dark Social: Email, the antisocial medium which will not die
  • Motivations for data sharing (note: my motivation; drawing a silly cartoon)
  • What should the scientific record look like in the digital age? (note: already solved, use evernote :D)
  • What the hack?! Part one: hackdays
  • MOOCs and other online educational tools (note: MOOC = Massive Open Online Courses, like a text based version of WoW where you learn stuff)
  • Research data integration
  • A collaborative book project

There’s an even more detailed discussion about the conference content over here on Figshare’s blog including a few videos.

They have also promised sessions on science campaigns and crowd funding, for which I assume they got speakers who actually got their projects running – rather than my less than successful project.

If the day sessions don’t float your boat then there are also some fringe events in the evenings at The Star of Kings pub. Because the best kind of fringe science is pub based fringe-science.

The Thursday night Story Collider fringe session is pretty much what is sounds like, sharing stories about science and about what things have had the biggest impact on people becoming scientist (my own example is below).

When I moved school at around 13 my science teacher wrote in my last report card that I “should consider a career outside of science”. There is a 50:50 chance that the subsequent 17 years have all been part of a very thorough attempt to spite that teacher.

The second fringe event, Science Showoff is in it’s own words “Science Cabaret night”. They provide the stage and people can get up and share science via the medium of well…. anything. Great place to get over a fear of public speaking as you could always claim you were going on with an ironic act of a ‘overly nervous 1st year PhD student’. Besides I expect you’ll never find a nicer and more supportive audience than a load of other scientists all trying their hand at showing off science.


SpotOn is hosted in the Wellcome Trust building just off Euston. If you’ve not been before it’s a fantastic place that houses the Wellcome collection and the Wellcome library. I could spend days browsing the art galleries, and studying books and manuscripts collected from centuries of medical research. I have a little bit of a thing for old science books (I’m slowly building an impressive little 1800s library) and these are some of the most fascinating and influential.

Sorry, might have got a bit fanboyish there, basically they’re interesting to look at, go see them.

UPDATE: Whoops, thanks @McDawg for pointing out that they are at the British Library this year not the Wellcome trust. I really should read things better. But the British Library is still a very cool place to hang out with an amazing multi-story glass cube of books.



While most conferences I attend have some pretty fascinating content (apart from one I attend on avocados, that was pretty dull) but the most valuable part tends to be the bits in between the talks where you get to meet people. And people attending a conference on ‘sharing science’ tend to be some of the most approachable around.

Also, while it’s not a perfect metric (something I learnt at last years SpotOn) my twitter follower count spiked last year from all the people I met interested in my work. Amazingly most of them actually kept following me all year despite the stream of inane science, food and parenting related content.

My twitter feed; high quality content 24 hours a day

My twitter feed; high quality content 24 hours a day


To be honest this heading is kinda just a plug for Science Grrl who do amazing work but also gave me a huge goodie bag last year which I promptly distributed to my very happy 4yr old. I’m sure there are other freebies available too!


Just go, it’ll be fun. Last time there was cake 🙂

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