Quick overview of Research 2010

I attended the MRS Conference in London this week, invited by Ray Poynter to perform (there’s no other word for it!) a five minute piece at Tuesday’s Ideas Rush.   I have not been to this conference for absolutely ages.   Met quite a few people from former lives and it was great to see them (shout-outs to Anna Cliffe,  Yvonne Burr, and Ann Morgan), not mention putting faces to more of the Twitter names.    There was more going on than I could possibly catch, and the parallel sessions meant that I ended up running from one room to another to try to catch things.

There was a mood of high anxiety about online research and social media: a strong sense that things are continuing to change very fast.  Rosie Campbell brought some perspective to the sense of being deluged by text, pointing out the importance of analysing discourse.    John Griffiths gave everyone palpitations all over again by talk of research bots gathering information, and  Ray Poynter put up a chart mapping online methods that I bet will be seen in every meeting room from here to Swindon.

I enjoyed some of the Day 1 novelties: as an Armando Iannucci fan, the interview with him which opened the conference had very little to do with the topic but was a delight.  Stephen Sackur showed us the skill of journalistic interviewing, with a panel that was pretty incisive given SS’s relatively unfamiliarity with the industry.   One panelist commented astutely that ‘there are several industries represented here’, and I think that’s very true.

Day 2’s set-pieces were more disappointing (although Dragon’s Den had some terrific performances).   The cynical forecaster was, well, cynical.  I was impressed to see him down the front afterwards selling copies of his pamphlet for a cool £5 (cash only) to a huddle of interested takers.

What can I say about the panel on cultural evolution?   Well.   Mark Earl’s initial party piece, about errors in transmission of gestures, made for wonderful theatre and had the most genetics in it of all 3 pieces.    We then had a piece about the evolution of objects, and a piece about patterns of adopting new objects…

I had joked to someone that there should be a bleeding-edge paper about the application of genetics to market research, but actually this wasn’t it, and I am going to be forced to write that one myself.   It will definitely include the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, as well as a discussion of founder effects.  Heh.

General thoughts:  although I love online research and think it can be rich and illuminating, I caught myself wondering whether the present climate represents the bubble for online involvement.  Communities seem to represent the best of online methods, giving the opportunity to talk to groups in quite a different way; yet there is a great deal of self-selection going on here, and in the online world, as everywhere else, the most desirable groups may be hard to pin down.   Sometimes it’s faster to pick up the phone.

The Research Magazine team did a brilliant job of interviewing and rapid blogging, and I particularly appreciated the Armando Ianucci interview in terms of the amount of preparation required (although repeat viewing of Malcolm Tucker is always rewarding).

The sessions were quick but a lot of delegate yakked on beyond their slot, leaving no room for questions. So, lots to see but could do more to be interactive.  And in the name of heaven do please give delegates a proper lunch.

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