Inspired by the OpenScience Project and dismayed by fellow researchers’ stodgy, rarely-updated lab websites, a Princeton scientist plunked down his own money to design a site he hopes will inspire fellow academics to go modern and openly share their research with the public.
“I thought the lab website was ripe for re-imagining,” said Ethan Perlstein, whose PerlsteinLab.com site launched on Wednesday with Web technology and a feel that would make some digital media publishers jealous.
The site smacks of the cool iPad app Flipboard and allows readers to browse through square and reorganizable summaries of content culled from Perlstein’s own blogging and research, but also with third-party sources. It incorporates Twitter, encourages comments and uses niche online tools like Figshare that highlight when Perlstein’s work is mentioned other places online.
PerlsteinLab.com also has panache. Instead of displaying an hourglass or a wristwatch symbol as content loads, the site shows a vesicle (Perlstein studies pharmacology and spends a large part of his research examining membranes).
He also thinks the site’s approach is more egalitarian. Perlstein, a fellow at Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, is among the scientists who boycott Elsevier because they dislike the publisher’s costs and restrictions on mostly publicly funded academic work. He also sympathizes with the Occupy movement, spent several afternoons in Zuccotti Park and thought the protesters’ concerns were kindred spirits with his ideas about more open, free and widely available scientific research.
“But I didn’t want to just sign boycotts,” he said. “They’re important, but to me these are negative actions. They’re not encouraging anything positive. So I thought, why don’t I reinvent the lab website?”
Perlstein said he paid several thousand dollars to build the site “comparative for what you would get if you had to retain a top-notch Web design firm.” He also thinks the site will go a long way to help build his own personal brand. His academic appointment is ending and he thinks it’s important for today’s scientist to cultivate a brand.
Perlstein will continue to iterate the site and is considering making it open source so other scientists could take the design and use it to promote their work, encourage constant discussion of research (instead of only at conferences) and end a vacuum of outreach from scientists to the public.
“I want this to be a Cambrian explosion of opportunity,” he said.
“This is why I’m an experimentalist,” he added. “I like to do an experiment and see what happens.”