We hope you’re enjoying Open Science Week at @realscientists! We’d like to introduce you to our next curator, Mike Taylor (@herrison), Head of Metrics Development, Digital Science. Here’s Mike’s story in science – starting out in scholarly publishing and now pursuing a PhD in alternative metrics.
Although I’m not someone who has worked professionally in a lab / in academia, there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t been scientific. However, it’s part of my identity: I would say “I am a scientist” in the same way I would say “I am a European”, or “I am a human”. I think this approach came about because I am deeply skeptical, and take almost nothing at face value. So the questions naturally followed: I have always worked in environments where there are a lot of questions without answers.
I started working in scholarly publishing when I was about 30 in the mid-90s, having spent the previous few years working in commercial publishing. I had been trying to make the move for years, but I suspect my views were rather scary to most. Eventually a rather rarefied branch of Elsevier took me on. If I have a calling, it is to do what I can to put research out in the world, and to support people to access it and researchers to communicate. However, I have none of the qualities needed to be a teacher. Technology was just beginning to hit hard, and my then company was in the vanguard of doing interesting things with technology, using bleeding edge tech in ways that hadn’t been intended. I was very proud that we had no idea what we’d be doing next year Eventually, I wound up in Elsevier Labs, under @bradleypallen for a few years. An interest in profile management and social networks led naturally into alternative metrics (#altmetrics), and then into analytics, citation, network analysis etc.
I’m currently looking at interdisciplinarity, and the different ways in which we might measure or detect the degree to which interdisciplinarity happens. It’s a perfect problem for me. Everyone thinks they know what it is, and there are no good definitions, so I think it’s ripe for some fresh thinking. I’m inspired by data that’s available through the NIH, and the work they did on co-citation networks for the RCR, but first I’ve got to do some reading. I’m starting with Bob Frodeman’s philosophical work on interdisciplinarity, “Sustainable Knowledge” (Bob’s a very readable author), and a few chapters from a graph maths book that look interesting. Hopefully it’ll result in a paper later in the year.
One of the hardest questions any researcher faces is “what do you do?” There seems to be very little space between “sitting in front of a computer staring at numbers” and a more detailed description of what I’m doing in scientometric terms. A long time ago, a neighbour gave me a massively detailed description of aluminium laminate bonding. I must have looked blank, he said “dear boy, I’m trying to make thin kitchen foil that doesn’t rip”. So: I’m trying to figure out what research people talk about in public, and whether that has any effect on how the research is used.
I’ve been working towards a PhD with Mike Thelwall at Wolverhampton for the last year or so, although moving from Elsevier to Digital Science rather put a temporary halt to my work. I’m picking that up now. I have habitually always had a number of voluntary obligations. I got to be involved in the very early days of Orcid, thanks to Elsevier’s generosity with my time, and now I spend time with Crossref, NISO and a few others. It’s important that we all – whether publishers, or associated with publishers – continue to make the commitment to interoperability, standards, transparency, even (dare I say it) openness.
I have two big interests away from work. Under any other circumstances, they might both be my career (and I’d be a hobby scientometrician). Helen – my wife – and I run a theatre company (www.111theatre.co.uk), which can take a fair amount of time. We’re currently working on a play about Ada Lovelace, one of the pioneers of computing. And I have an interest in archaeology. The area I have spent most of my life – Oxford and West Oxfordshire – is very rich with iron age / romano-british hill forts and earthworks. Although there is a reasonable amount of literature on individual features, there’s very little that tries to tie these features together, particularly in an ethno-economic context. I’m hoping that no-one does this before I retire.
Ideal Day Off? Walking and cycling through the iron age features of the Ridgeway, trying to make sense of their context in the country.
Please welcome Mike to Real Scientists!