Student profile: Richard Fyson
What was your academic path before coming to the Web Science DTC 4 year MSc/PhD programme?
I joined the Web Science DTC immediately after completing a Computer Science BSc at the University of Southampton.
Why did you choose Web Science?
Having completed a degree in Computer Science I was keen to carry on studying, and Web Science provided a great opportunity to learn about a range of subjects and issues rather than to focus on a tighter, more precise topic.
Best experience of the course so far?
I thorough enjoyed the MSc year, which presented opportunities to acquaint oneself not just with a range of different subjects, but also with students from a number of backgrounds. Working with students with experience in other disciplines was both an interesting and useful insight into how others work, ultimately proving to be both informative and enjoyable.
Other highlights include a trip to South Korea to work with some Web Science students, allowing a chance to engage in different projects and experience some new Web Science perspectives, as well as a trip to Norway to see how what we have learned in Web Science can be applied to a range of social and economic issues.
What was your MSc Project?
My MSc project was an investigation into the impacts of the Web (or lack thereof) on academic publishing in the field of Chemistry, a discipline which it could be argued has failed to embrace many of the benefits the Web affords. My dissertation looked at the Web’s potential to not only provide new formats for disseminating data and knowledge in Chemistry, but also to allow for the publication of negative results, a move which would allow much more knowledge to be available to wider community, resulting in more informed and efficient research. However barriers to these ideas exist, and my dissertation focused on what is the source of these barriers and in what methods may be employed to overcome them – principally the use of knowledge management technologies and provenance.
What is your PhD Project?
My PhD project builds upon the initial work of the MSc project, using theories and ideas from a range of subjects to inform new ideas that can be applied to the world of scholarly publishing. Having looked at game theory, knowledge management and collective behaviour theory, as well as the effects of the Web on other sectors and markets, my PhD project proposes a new approach to academic publishing: “Dissemination through Disintermediation”. This looks at the complex network of stakeholders that participate in academic discourse and comes to the conclusion that academic journals, whilst playing an important role, are inhibiting the openness and effectiveness of much research that is communicated. My PhD aims to look at how the journal publishers, who in many instances act as middle men adding little value to the process, may be removed, thus providing new methods for communicating, bestowing recognition upon researchers and measuring the impact of research projects.
Over my years studying at the university I have worked on and off on a number of side projects, programming various learning tools for the Chemistry department.
What are your Career ambitions?
Upon completing my PhD I would be keen to stay in academia and pursue further avenues of research in this field. However I would also be keen to take the lessons we have learned in Web Science and apply them to a range of other concerns and issues in a consulting capacity.
Researchers have a number of different “stakeholders” they need to satisfy throughout the course of their research. First and foremost they have the desire to conduct research and create new knowledge, but other demands are placed on them by external parties such as research councils and journal publishers. These demands may be conflicting or time consuming and as a result reduce the amount of time researchers can spend on research itself. The Web provides an opportunity to help researchers more effectively manage these demands, allowing more time spent on research and less time on administrative affairs.
The problem is most prevalent when looking at practical lead, as opposed to desk based research. With desk based research, such as that carried out by many of the humanities disciplines, meeting the demands of stakeholders is not such a problem when both research and admin can be completed at the same place. However with practical lead research, much of the data generated happens away from the desk and this leads to researcher’s time being divided between collecting data in the practical environment and dealing with administrative issues at their desk (when they also need to analyse the data gathered or create plans for future work). This is a trait typical among many scientific disciplines, with chemistry providing a suitable example in which the issues can be examined in a controlled, practical environment. However, the issues raised here apply across many other disciplines, from archaeology where researchers work in trenches, to oceanographers working out at sea.
To truly give the researcher more time to conduct their research, the recording of work and the subsequent reporting back to research councils or production of results for journal publishers should be streamlined into the everyday processes carried out by the researcher. As such a system which records and disseminates work should be implemented in the practical environment in which the research is enacted whilst avoiding hindering the progress of research itself. At present not many researchers perceive a problem in managing their various demands and so are unlikely to wish to change the way in which they go about their work. Creating a system that endeavours to solve the aforementioned problems will not work without fully incorporating the researcher into the process, moving beyond an attitude of “build it and they will come”.
It is hoped, that by making the process of recording work and reporting back to stakeholders easier to conduct in the practical environment, that in turn researchers will be more inclined to share all of their work among their peers, including unexpected or “negative” results. Previous research has indicated that a bias towards positive results in academic publishing may be hindering scientific progress (Fanelli, 2011). By implementing ideas established by knowledge management in conjunction with game theory (Loebecke et al., 1999) it may be possible to encourage the dissemination of more research data, simply by making the processes by which this achieved more convenient. Knowledge management may also be able to provide insight into how to manage the balance between the preservation of knowledge entered into an online system and its accessibility.
The research ideas presented here are inherently interdisciplinary both in the fact that the problem applies to a broad array of disciplines, but also in the nature in which the problems may be addressed. For example, HCI research may provide an insight into pervasive computing and approaches to providing a Web interface which operates seamlessly with well established processes alongside being able to respond to the unpredictable nature of a practical research environment. Other areas of research that may also be informative include looking at provenance frameworks to establish how to record the origins of data generated providing both trust in the data’s quality (Freitas et al., 2011) and increasing its usability (Miles et al., 2007). The Semantic Web may also be used in order to impose a structure upon the data generated; taking advantage of its “born digital nature” to create “research objects” (Bechhofer et al., 2010) which can be used effectively by both researchers and their machines.
To test and research some of the ideas presented here, one approach would be to establish case studies of research scenarios which have a practical lead element. By analysing the case studies a model of the interactions present may then be generated in a similar fashion to Workflow Analysis for I2S2 report (Ball, 2011) with which opportunities to improve the efficiency and dissemination of research may be identified. Such models may then later be implemented as prototype systems upon which both quantitative and qualitative analysis may be carried out using both data generated by the prototype system and feedback from the system’s users respectively.
By implementing the ideas presented here, it is hoped that researchers will construct an information object as they proceed with their research, from which the relevant pieces of information can be extracted and presented to the appropriate users. However by streamlining the process by which researchers interact with their stakeholders, not only does this present the research with more time in which to continue with the practical elements of their work, but it also reduces the costs of collaborating with peers, with the overall result of a more open and productive academic community.
Richard Fyson – Web Science PhD Student
Ball, A., 2011. Workflow analysis for I2S2. UKOLN.
Bechhofer, S. et al., 2010. Research Objects: Towards Exchange and Reuse of Digital Knowledge. In The Future of the Web for Collaborative Science. Raleigh, NC, 2010.
Fanelli, D., 2011. Negative results are disappearing from most disciplines and countries. Scientometrics.
Freitas, A., Knap, T., O’Riain, S. & Curry, E., 2011. W3P: Building an OPM based provenance model for the Web. Future Generation Computer Systems, 27, pp.766-74.
Loebecke, C., Van Fenema, P.C. & Powell, P., 1999. Co-Opetition and Knowledge Transfer. ACM SIGMIS Database, 30(2), pp.14-25.
Miles, S., Groth, P., Branco, M. & Moreau, L., 2007. The requirements of using provenance in e-Science experiments. Journal of Grid Computing, 5(1), pp.1-25.