PhD study of this forum

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ommarshucl
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PhD study of this forum

Postby ommarshucl » Sun May 24, 2015 10:47 am UTC

Hello,

I am a current PhD student doing research into online conversations about science. I was hoping to use this forum as one of my case-studies - this would involve using only publically available information, and I shall never be reporting any personal information of users (even user-chosen pseudonyms). I wanted to check this would be ok with you as a group; and also as an individual user, if you would be more comfortable with me not using your posts or comments please do let me know (preferably ASAP to minimise back-searching). More information can be found at ucl.ac.uk/sts/students/marsh, in particular the 'what I am doing' and 'get involved' sections.

Also, I was wondering if any of you would be willing to talk about your experiences of using this forum? I am interested in hearing about all sorts of use, from lurking to regular posting. This could be carried out through any medium you would prefer.

Finally if any of you have experience using any other form of publicly available science-focussed online discussion group - barring blogs, they're not included in my research for various reasons - I'd be very interested to hear about that.

I am happy to chat further or answer questions, so please do comment below, I'm at oliver.marsh.13[at]ucl.ac.uk, or try to PM me (though I'm not sure that feature of my account is authorised yet).

Oliver

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun May 24, 2015 1:50 pm UTC

Good idea using this forum!

I'm a 5th year graduate student in a molecular cell biology program. I'm also part of the ArmyOfScience on reddit, which I wager a couple other people here are as well. I'm a huuuuuuuuuuuuge fan of using various internet social media platforms for disseminating and discussing science.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby scarecrovv » Sun May 24, 2015 4:10 pm UTC

What you're doing sounds interesting to me. I'm not sure if I sound interesting to you, but if I do I'd be happy to answer questions via PM. I'm a software engineer for an aerospace company who enjoys learning about science. Most of my older posts are from when I was an undergrad or master's student. I would describe myself as mostly a lurker but I do speak up occasionally. I get the sense that my posting rate is much lower than most of the forum regulars. The only reason my post count is as high as it is is because I've been here a while. Then again, I haven't collected any data to back up that assertion so I could be wrong.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Quercus » Sun May 24, 2015 5:47 pm UTC

Hi Oliver

I'm an immunology PhD student currently in the final stages of writing up, as it happens, at UCL. More than happy to talk about xkcd forum stuff, either by email, PM, or, as I'm in London, over a pint sometime. Most of my posts aren't actually science-related, but a reasonable fraction of them are, and I enjoy reading about science on the forum even when I'm not posting.

Let me know if/when/how you'd like to chat, and best of luck with your research.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby doogly » Sun May 24, 2015 7:22 pm UTC

I finished my PhD in physics in 2013, so depending on how much back log you go you might hit my grad-student era.

ommarshucl wrote:Finally if any of you have experience using any other form of publicly available science-focussed online discussion group - barring blogs, they're not included in my research for various reasons - I'd be very interested to hear about that.

This seems like a very artificial division though, so I'm curious. What are some of those reasons? Blogs are the other main science chat place for me.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Fractal_Tangent » Sun May 24, 2015 10:43 pm UTC

I mean, I don't really post in this part of the fora frequently but if you'd like to have a look at the stuff I've posted, feel free.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby SecondTalon » Mon May 25, 2015 6:34 am UTC

I'd say it's a giant dick move to have opt-out instead of opt-in.

Not that anyone can stop you, of course.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Rococo » Tue May 26, 2015 3:01 am UTC

Sounds like a cool project! I am a current PhD student in physics. I'm not very active here in any capacity, but I read more than I post.

The other online scientific community I occasionally participate in is the physics stackexchange: physics.stackexchange.com, under the same handle. Both the volume and density of interesting questions is a bit higher for me there than here, but on the other hand I prefer the forum format that lends itself to discussions instead of lectures. However, like doogly, I get much more informal scientific writing from blogs than from both of these combined.

SecondTalon wrote:I'd say it's a giant dick move to have opt-out instead of opt-in.

Not that anyone can stop you, of course.

I'm sure Oliver can speak for himself, but I imagine that Anthropology would not exist in any meaningful way if this were the standard. Although, granted, it is uniquely true in an online setting that anyone could read his thesis and immediately go to see the primary source. That said, I hope I won't be insulting to Oliver if I predict that many more people read our postings directly than will ever see them in his thesis ;) .

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby tomandlu » Tue May 26, 2015 6:04 am UTC

Fine by me.

No academic background in science (I went to drama school and now work on clinical databases - long story). I come here to ask stupid questions, generally about relativity or QP. I also write SF*, and come for help with the science, or to check a relativity or gravity calculation (it's not hard SF, but I like to at least acknowledge when I'm breaking a rule, and provide at least a semblance of plausibility).

* self-published, so even less readers than your thesis
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 26, 2015 12:29 pm UTC

It might be nice if this were more opt-in than opt-out (I opt in for the record), given that any quoted text is easily linked back to the original poster regardless of how much information is stripped for the thesis.

More important would be to at least stick to the publicly-accessible parts of the forum and avoid safespaces, though if you're focusing on communication about science I imagine most of what you look at would be here in the science subforum anyway.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby SDK » Tue May 26, 2015 1:24 pm UTC

Well, if you care about opting in, I'm in. I do much more reading in this subforum than I do posting, but I'm happy to answer a few questions about my habits if you'd like.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby peregrine_crow » Tue May 26, 2015 1:42 pm UTC

Rococo wrote:
SecondTalon wrote:I'd say it's a giant dick move to have opt-out instead of opt-in.

Not that anyone can stop you, of course.

I'm sure Oliver can speak for himself, but I imagine that Anthropology would not exist in any meaningful way if this were the standard. Although, granted, it is uniquely true in an online setting that anyone could read his thesis and immediately go to see the primary source. That said, I hope I won't be insulting to Oliver if I predict that many more people read our postings directly than will ever see them in his thesis ;) .


That depends on how the information is gathered, if there is some automated data gathering going on then it migth not be practical to get opt-ins from everyone, but I agree with SecondTalon that for direct quotes appearing in the thesis it would be nice to ask the quoted person for permission (or at very least let them know).

In either case I'm cool with my posts being used for this.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Neil_Boekend » Tue May 26, 2015 2:03 pm UTC

I opt in if it is opt in and opt out if it is opt out, because opt out would be a dick move in this case.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Flumble » Tue May 26, 2015 4:07 pm UTC

I, for one, am not on the fence if this is opt-out (as such, count me in for the opt-in).
I'm in the school of thought that says: if you place a message* on a public-facing (part of a) site, it basically becomes public domain. This is mostly practical, because it's very hard to remove information from a network, while it's very easy to store and spread information on a network.

*at least without identifiable information

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby doogly » Tue May 26, 2015 4:36 pm UTC

If anything, I'd strongly expect an athropological study that were purely opt-in to have problems with selection bias. Most unscientific!
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Zamfir » Tue May 26, 2015 6:47 pm UTC

There's a meta-version of that as well, working in the other direction. If you focus work on populations who can't opt out, you'll produce a bias as well, this time in the subject choice. It's the old studying up and studying down problem.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby doogly » Wed May 27, 2015 1:09 am UTC

Yeah, I don't think you should let people opt out either.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Dopefish » Wed May 27, 2015 1:40 am UTC

I suppose it'd be inappropriate to turn this into an ethics of science methodologies debate thread, although one of the nifty things about this forum is that we could and it'd be constructive on both sides.

I don't post much relatively speaking, but I lurked here throughout my undergrad degree in physics/chem (08-12), and now enjoy lurking and reading stuff here. The reading the ultra-casual high school level science questions is nice as a confidence boost that I haven't forgotten everything I learned, and the over-my-head research level discussions that sometimes happen are good for keeping me grounded (and tend to offer interesting things to wiki). The occasional crackpot discussions are also fascinating, and the patience some members display in debunking the crackpottery is impressive (alas the explanations are often more enlightening to the educated lurkers than to the crackpots).

I occasionally turn extremely inappropriate other chat rooms (e.g. random video game chats rooms) into science discussions, but they rapidly deteriorate and are filled with factually dubious claims, so these forums are about the extent of 'real' science discussion I get online these days.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 27, 2015 12:31 pm UTC

I find the fact that the OP hasn't returned to clarify to be strangest.
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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby ommarshucl » Thu May 28, 2015 3:19 pm UTC

Hello everyone, many apologies for my delay in replying I unexpectedly ended up with a large chunk of exam marking to do this week...

Thanks for the interest in the project - anyone who has messaged me already, expect a reply either this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Anyone else who fancies messaging me, please do! Once the PM facility works properly for me I'll also message people who've used the above thread to express an interest in talking to me.

R.e. questions about the opt-out: the points raised above about opt-in (huge sampling bias, makes any sort of representative anthropology impossible, problems with automated data collection) are correct, there's also an extra concern in that if academics-of-the-internet required opt-in then we would be at a *massive* disadvantage compared to corporate researchers who don't even usually bother to ask, and therefore knowledge about internet usage becomes concentrated solely in the hands of people who are using it to make lots of money (I mean, it is already but...). However I can promise that I will be taking every care to protect data - in particular regarding quotations, I can certainly try and contact the original poster first and definitely won't be connecting them to any personally identifiable information. (I'm even toying with trying to make 'aggregate quotations' rather than using direct quotations (for the reasons of Googling power mentioned above), if anyone knows anything about potentially useful language-processing algorithms I'd be interested to hear).

More important would be to at least stick to the publicly-accessible parts of the forum and avoid safespaces
- absolutely, that's definitely my intention.

This seems like a very artificial division though, so I'm curious. What are some of those reasons? Blogs are the other main science chat place for me.
- there are two main reasons. Firstly, a fair amount has been written in my field about blogs already, so I'm just trying to push away from that a bit. Secondly, I'm interested in situations where the communicator/reader divide isn't necessarily clear from the outset, which doesn't fit a lot of blogs - though I agree that's not universally true, and I am imposing a bit of an artificial division (partly for reasons of workload...).

I think I've covered most of the general points from the above, but if there's anything else you'd like me to discuss publicly on this thread please do let me know. Thanks again for the interest.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby ommarshucl » Thu May 28, 2015 3:29 pm UTC

Oh also
Izawwlgood wrote: I'm also part of the ArmyOfScience on reddit.


- I managed to miss this one in my looking for science-based subreddits, thanks!

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jun 04, 2015 6:24 pm UTC

I'm cool with opting-in, myself. I assume anything I post here can probably be traced to me anyways if anybody really cares(but also strongly suspect that this level of caring is fairly unlikely). I don't post in this sub-forum terribly frequently, but do so on occasion. Feel free to PM or whatever. I'm a software engineer/business owner/mad scientist.

I don't view opt-out as necessary a privacy issue, provided the anonymization is thorough. As pointed out, many quotations are sufficiently distinct that googling them will bring you straight to the original post, which probably falls a bit short by most standards. Aggregated data is probably less of a concern. Average posting rates and whatever.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby PolakoVoador » Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:34 pm UTC

Huh, this thread made me realise how much I ignore sticky threads.

Anyway, I opt-in and will gladly answer your questions.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby WanderingLinguist » Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:28 am UTC

I'm generally more active in Coding and Computer Science, but for what it's worth, opt-in. Will also gladly answer questions; feel free to PM me.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby sciencenerd » Sat Nov 28, 2015 10:17 pm UTC

Good luck to all you phDs on this site. Great job for getting to such a high level of education.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:38 pm UTC

I would love to be part of your study. I am not too worried about you giving out information that could lead someone back to me. When I first started going on forums and posting, I did an experiment. Using only knowledge that I may casually give out, could someone link my account to my person. I found that unless I mention something newsworthy that applies to only a few people (awards, records, scholarships) then no one could find me. Even if someone discovered all of my accounts, there would still not be enough public information to track me down.

The only think that I ask is that any quotes are whole sentences instead of phrases. It is nothing against you, but a lot of the time when I see quotes taken out of context they are not entire sentences. The next time you see a political campaign ads, a crazy conspiracy argument, or stumble across one of those horribly intolerant sites you should remove every quote that is only a phase and anything about that quote. It is surprising just how little is left.

P.S. I have an idea for a paper, but realistically I will never go through with it. Basically, go to a bunch of random YouTube videos and see how long it takes until someone in the comments says Nazi, Hitler, or Holocaust. Then compare that to the tags on the video. I see now way how this research could be important, but I know that the results will be interesting.

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Re: PhD study of this forum

Postby Tass » Thu Jan 28, 2016 5:06 pm UTC

I am obviously a bit late to the party, but I was a PhD-student in 2010-2012 when I was also much more active on this forum. Ask away, I'll gladly help in any way I can.


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