Robert J. Robbins is a biologist, an educator, a science administrator, a publisher, an information technologist, and an IT leader and manager who specializes in advancing biomedical knowledge and supporting education through the application of information technology. More About: RJR | OUR TEAM | OUR SERVICES | THIS WEBSITE
About This Website
This website has been developed (almost) entirely using tools and systems that I have developed over the years. No overall supporting content-management system (CMS), such as Wordpress, has been used. I opted for this approach because of a desire to create a website in which information technology is used to help manufacture the website, not to help hand craft it.
On this website, I wanted to have a substantial amount of material that could be created automatically, such as annotated bibliographies developed from direct queries to PubMed or from material maintained in a separate citation-management system.
For a while I tried to connect these automated processes with Wordpress or other CMSs, but I kept discovering that the design of those systems had been optimized for the hand-crafting of websites and actually got in the way of using content that had been "manufactured" outside the CMS system. This current website now has more than 100 individual pages that together contain well over half a million external links. Maintaining all of this through some kind of computer-assisted hand crafting was just not feasible — an IT-assisted manufacturing process was required.
When I first started creating websites, more than 25 years ago, there were no generally available tools to help with the process. You created a web site by sitting down with a word processor and writing HTML code. I quickly discovered that that could be profoundly tedious for dealing with trivial changes.
For example, in one of my early efforts I tried to create a bibliography accompanied with photos of the authors. For variety, I wanted each entry to alternate left and right. That is, the first entry would have the photo on the left, the text on the right. The second would switch, with the text on the left and the photo on the right. This was well before CSS had been developed, so the best way to do this was to put the contents into <TABLE> structures. But if I wanted to add a new item to an existing bibliography, every existing entry from that point on had to have its left-right layout reversed. Yow! What a hassle.
So, I developed software that would allow me to maintain the data in a tag-value data file that could be fed into custom code that acted like a mail-merge program, with HTML coming out the other end. The format of the HTML output was controlled by a separate driver file that contained HTML intermixed with <<tag-names>> that would be replaced with tag values, as the data file was read. That program let me "manufacture" TABLEs of bibliographic content very quickly.
With the advent of CSS, I could just modify the driver files to contain HTML with CSS markup and then put the formatting into the separate CSS file. This gave me even greater flexibility.
Also, at the time I was doing this, I was mainly developing the WWW.ESP.ORG website that was providing access to classic scientific literature to the world. Many of the early users of the site were from parts of the world where access to desktop computers was limited, and the computers that could be accessed were old and primitive. For that reason, I wanted to stay away from any client-side systems that would put a computing burden on the user's computer. Similarly, since I was working on my server as a one-man staff, I wanted to stay away from technology that I didn't understand completely or that would require significant effort to secure and maintain.
RJR Experience and Expertise
Robbins holds BS, MS, and PhD degrees in the life sciences. He served as a tenured faculty member in the Zoology and Biological Science departments at Michigan State University. He is currently exploring the intersection between genomics, microbial ecology, and biodiversity — an area that promises to transform our understanding of the biosphere.
Robbins has extensive experience in college-level education: At MSU he taught introductory biology, genetics, and population genetics. At JHU, he was an instructor for a special course on biological database design. At FHCRC, he team-taught a graduate-level course on the history of genetics. At Bellevue College he taught medical informatics.
Robbins has been involved in science administration at both the federal and the institutional levels. At NSF he was a program officer for database activities in the life sciences, at DOE he was a program officer for information infrastructure in the human genome project. At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he served as a vice president for fifteen years.
Robbins has been involved with information technology since writing his first Fortran program as a college student. At NSF he was the first program officer for database activities in the life sciences. At JHU he held an appointment in the CS department and served as director of the informatics core for the Genome Data Base. At the FHCRC he was VP for Information Technology.
While still at Michigan State, Robbins started his first publishing venture, founding a small company that addressed the short-run publishing needs of instructors in very large undergraduate classes. For more than 20 years, Robbins has been operating The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, a web site dedicated to the digital publishing of critical works in science, especially classical genetics.
Robbins is well-known for his speaking abilities and is often called upon to provide keynote or plenary addresses at international meetings. For example, in July, 2012, he gave a well-received keynote address at the Global Biodiversity Informatics Congress, sponsored by GBIF and held in Copenhagen. The slides from that talk can be seen HERE.
Robbins is a skilled meeting facilitator. He prefers a participatory approach, with part of the meeting involving dynamic breakout groups, created by the participants in real time: (1) individuals propose breakout groups; (2) everyone signs up for one (or more) groups; (3) the groups with the most interested parties then meet, with reports from each group presented and discussed in a subsequent plenary session.
Robbins has been engaged with photography and design since the 1960s, when he worked for a professional photography laboratory. He now prefers digital photography and tools for their precision and reproducibility. He designed his first web site more than 20 years ago and he personally designed and implemented this web site. He engages in graphic design as a hobby.
RJR Picks from Around the Web (updated 11 MAY 2018 )
Science Policy & Funding
Big Data & Informatics