Wednesday, July 19, 2006

UsefulChem/CCWB Podcast

Podcast (mp3)
Screencast (mov)

Beth Ritter-Guth:

Hi, my name is Beth Ritter-Guth. I teach English full time at Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Welcome to your very first night of class with Dr. Jameson. I'm very sorry that I can't be with you this evening, but technology has made it possible for me to communicate with you, and I'm very excited about that project that we're going to talk about for the next few minutes.

The project we're working on is based on the understanding that the science community and the learning community can work together to solve world problems. What we'll be doing is investigating some questions and issues that surround scientific research that is happening right now at Drexel.

The three faculty members working on this project right now are Dr. Jean Claude Bradley at Drexel, Dr. Jameson, your instructor and me; I teach full time at L Tri-C. In our collaboration, we're hoping to prepare research and disseminate information to the general public by using wikis and blogs. A wiki is a web site that anybody can edit and blog is like a web diary. Some of you may be familiar with these tools, but if you're not, you'll be learning these tools throughout the semester under the direction of Dr. Jameson.

The cornerstone of this project is a project that's been happening at Drexel for quite some time now called the Useful Chem Project. What it is is graduate and undergraduate chemistry students are publishing their lab results in real time on the web using a blog. They publish all of their experiments, even ones that fail. That's a little bit different than the way science is done now. The way it's done now is that all the experimentation takes place behind closed doors and then only the best experiments or the successful ones are published in closed journals -- journals that you have to pay for.

What Dr. Bradley is hoping to do through the Useful Chem project is to publish the science in real time, publishing all of the experiments so that other scientists can build on what's being done. It's a controversial issue, open source science, because some people feel that you should have to pay to read about research and others believe that the world's problems are so great that they need immediate response and open source science does that.

The students at Drexel are working on a project involving enoyl reductase, and part of your job as science sleuths this semester is going to be to figure out what that is, how it relates to malaria and figure out whether the research published in real time is worth the effort and the controversy.

Our job -- we are working on the Useful Chem writing partner side. We're not chemists -- of course I don't anything about Chemistry and I don't know how much Dr Jameson knows about chemistry, but our job is to explain to the general public what is it that the scientists at Drexel are doing. We have to look what they are doing, ask questions, explore some of the issues surrounding what they are doing and then present that information to the general public in a way that they can understand.

One of the first things you'll learn in English 105 is that when we write the first thing we do is we identify audience. When we're writing on the web, we have to be sure that a lot of different people can use the information. Right now the information is being presented to other scientists and chemists at the graduate and undergraduate level, but what we're going to do is take that information and make it accessible to other populations: other students and people in other countries, and so we need to figure out a way to communicate these ideas to others.

As part of the research process, on the English side, we have two ways that we look for information that we call primary and secondary research. In primary research we interview and observe scientists doing experiments, like those that the scientists are doing at Drexel. Part of our job is going to be to interview key people in the open source science movement and find out why and how it is they do what they do. In doing so, in those interviews, we'll be able to identify areas of further exploration.

The second kind of research that we in English do is secondary research. We look at the research published by other people that can either be open source research, research available for free to the public, peer reviewed or not; or information that is available through a closed journal or one that you have to pay for.

If you look here, this is the wiki that Dr. Bradley has placed some questions on, and I believe he's added a few more questions since I captured this screen. What we want to do, as science sleuths, is to try to answer these questions. This is just what a wiki is, you can see it's just a web site that a whole bunch of people can edit. It's very simple, there's no HTML involved. We'll be publishing our answers and further questions for exploration on a wiki; this is just what it looks like so you have an idea.

Some of the questions that Dr. Bradley has asked, and I do believe he added some more since I captured this, but they are some of the questions that we need to ask as researchers if we were working in the field. When you get jobs out in the community, your boss is going to ask you to find out information that you probably don't know a whole lot about. This project is a perfect preparation for you as you prepare for the writing demands of your career because you have to figure out information that you don't know a whole lot about, then communicate or disseminate it to a population that knows less than you. Here are some questions that we are going to explore.

The first thing we want to look at is we want to find out if there are any approved drugs using the inhibition of enoyl reductase. I don't know where you'd find that information, and Dr. Jameson may not know where you'd find that information, so your job as investigators is going to be to find out if there are any approved drugs. Where would you find that information? Then you need to find out how new anti-malarial drugs are tested and what's been used already. How were those drugs tested? One example is DDT, and so one of the questions I think that Dr. Bradley has added is about DDT and how it's used, how it was made, what problems did they encounter and do the problems outweigh the benefits or do the benefits outweigh the problems. You'll be reading some text by critics and also from supporters of DDT.

The third question we have is what are the problems with existing drugs, the other drugs that are out there? What are the problems with them and why do we need to continue to look for new drugs? We want to look at how chemists decide which molecules to make. Do they get a list somewhere; do they ask people? I don't know where we'll find this information; maybe we need to ask a chemist "how do you figure this out and how do you decide which molecules to make," so this really is an exploration activity to find out where you would get good information. Then, we want to know if there is something besides enoyl reductase that people are working on that are targeted to fight malaria. Is there anything else out there that they're working on and are they working on it in open source science or are they working on it in a closed lab?

Finally, the four questions that are interesting to know in scientists are what are the political, religious, cultural or economic barriers that are preventing malaria from being treated? Malaria comes from a mosquito, and you'd think in a world where there are all kinds of drugs, equipment and technology that we could beat a little mosquito, but clearly we're not because thousands of people die every day throughout the world from malaria related illnesses.

The Community College without Borders Project that Dr. Jameson, myself and a few other people at L Tri-C are working on partners with the Useful Chem Project in that we explore some of these other issues to a greater degree. We want to know where is malaria a problem, where in the world is this a problem? Where is AIDS a problem? Where is arsenic in drinking water a problem?

Dr Jameson is going to talk to you about, an organization that is fighting AIDS. We don't hear a lot about AIDS any more in the United States, but clearly it's a problem world-wide. There are issues that the world is facing, and we need to figure out what the issues are and how they are solved, both from a chemistry and scientific perspective and a social economic perspective. We want to look at the different perspectives that are used to solve world problems.

The final question that we are going to try to answer in this course, and one of the reasons we are publishing our materials in real time in our research, we want to know will open source science will help to fix the problem? Clearly, there are a lot of approaches to fixing the problems of the world and open source science is just one of them, but what we want to know at the end is do you think, as a group of students working on this project, that open source science is one of the answers?

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask Dr. Jameson, Dr. Bradley or myself. Any one of us would be happy to communicate with you. I will be in touch with you; I will be looking over your blog posts and on the wiki for information that you gather and disseminate to the public. I wish you all the very best. If you are new to the college I welcome you to L-Tri C and I look forward to your posts. Take care.


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