Science Bar Camp in Toronto

Just heard via Timo Hannay of Nature, our partner in crime in organizing Science Foo Camp, that a number of Toronto-area scientists are getting together to organize a Science Bar Camp. In a mail message to Timo, Michael wrote:

Together with a few friends in
the Toronto area (including Lee Smolin, who you may have met at SciFoo) I
am helping to organize an “Open Source” version of SciFoo, named
SciBarCamp, in homage to both SciFoo and BarCamp. The event is being held
in Toronto from the evening of March 14 (a Friday) to Sunday March 16.

It’s awesome to see the Foo/Bar meme spreading to science. Getting smart people together to share ideas and insights in an emergent, cross-disciplinary way is a fabulous way to create new synapses in the global brain (which is how I described the Foo Camp mission a few years ago.)

It’s interesting to see Foo and Bar converging here, too. While Michael describes SciBarCamp as an “open” version of Foo Camp, it’s limited to 100 people, and already 80 of those places are taken, by a mix of people who were pre-invited and those who’ve nominated themselves as described on the site. So it’s maybe a bit more self-nominated than Foo Camp, but not really open to all comers like a traditional drop-in Bar Camp. There are practical limits — size of venue, cost, even optimum group size — to events like this.

So I’m not sure I’d agree with the idea that this is an “open source version of SciFoo.” That’s kind of like describing Python as an open source version of Perl. It’s just another project with a similar scope and similar ideals. (Anyone who watched the Foo Camp invitation process might conclude that it’s not very different from an open source project — various people sending in suggestions “so and so would be great to invite,” and others responding with the Apache +1 when they like the suggestion. Just like a patch approval process.)

But what I do love about Bar Camp is that anyone can organize one. The only thing that’s “proprietary” about Foo is the name, and that’s no more proprietary than Apache or Linux or Perl. But the name still put an artificial limit on the spread of the idea. We’re delighted when people who’ve attended Foo are inspired to create their own events, and so we’re obligated to the original Bar Camp founders for coming up with a name that so elegantly embraced and extended our original design.