May 21, 2011
The emergence of Web 2.0 has resulted in a number of new communication and participation tools. Wiki, rss, weblogs and social networks have turned the Internet into a writable platform, where the user acts as a “prosumer”, that is a consumer and a producer of information. For many, however, social computing is not just a new phase in the evolution of ICT, but a new model of generation and diffusion of knowledge, which has a potentially transformative impact on social and cultural processes. The rapid and pervasive diffusion of social computing requires organizations and institutions to face new challenges and rethink their modus operandi.
Science, as any other cultural enterprise, is likely to be deeply affected by the social media revolution. This is not surprising, considering the close relationship that has always existed between the development of science and the development of the Internet. When Tim Berners Lee, a researcher of the European Particle Physics Lab (CERN) in Switzerland, created the networked hypertext, his main goal was to develop an effective solution to facilitate communication among members of the high-energy physics community, who were located in several countries. In his original proposal to CERN’s management written in March 1989, Berners-Lee suggested “the integration of a hypertext system with existing data, so as to provide a universal system, and to achieve critical usefulness at an early stage”.
Since those early days of its development, of course, the Web has changed enormously, offering researchers opportunities that are probably beyond the imagination of its inventor. Today’s social media tools and services have the potential to radically transform the way science is conducted, financed and communicated. This “Science 2.0 revolution” unfolds along three major directions: open collaboration, open data and open publication/access.
Open collaboration refers to the possibility of using the tools provided by social networks, wikis and forums to share information and know-how. This strategy allows researchers to exchange protocols, techniques, experimental procedures and find solutions to common issues. Open collaboration networks provide a powerful collaboration and learning environment, where experts from different disciplines can join their forces to develop new projects, write grant proposals, plan studies etc.
The second trend, open data, concerns the publication and re-use of scientific data such as maps, genomes, chemical compounds, medical etc. without price or permission. Although the concept is not new, it has gained momentum in recent years thanks to the raising popularity of social computing. Advocates of this approach believe that the public availability and reusability of research data not only reduce wasteful duplication of effort, but also permit faster progress in science, since different teams can use the same data to test a variety of hypotheses. Recently, prominent exponents of the open data movement have authored a set of principles – the “Panton Principles” aimed at articulating a view of what best practice should be with respect to data publication for science. A key goal of these principles is the elimination of uncertainty for researchers who wish to use the data about what exactly they are allowed to do with it.
The third emerging trend in Science 2.0, open access, concerns the provision of unrestricted online access to articles published in scholarly journals. Supporters of open access argue that this approach brings researchers increased visibility, usage and impact for their work. On the other hand, critics of OA do not believe that this model is economically sustainable, and express concerns about quality control. Another criticism is that since some OA journals require payment on behalf of the author, this could generate conflicts of interest and have a negative impact on the perceived neutrality of peer review, as there would be a financial incentive for journals to publish more articles.
Wikis, blogs and the other Web 2.0 technologies are paving a way towards providing new means of collaboration, education and communication for researchers. However, the successful adoption of this approach depends heavily on the ability to create a deep understanding of scientist’s current practices, needs and expectations.
More to explore:
- Science 2.0: Science 2.0 is an open professional network on Linkedin aimed at connecting researchers, consultants and companies and institutions interested in the impact of social media on science and technology.
- Research Gate:ResearchGate is a community for researchers in the science and technology fields that includes advanced semantic search capabilities. Launched in 2008 by Ijad Madisch, Horst Fickenscher and Sören Hofmayer, this “Facebook for scientists” has gathered a user base of more than 700.000 researchers worldwide.
- Labmeeting: Labmeeting, founded by Mark Kaganovich, Jeremy England, Dan Kaganovich, and Joseph Perla, is an online platform for scientists. It is designed as a document-sharing service for scientific papers and protocols. Members can upload their papers in PDF form, organize them, search them, and share them with other lab members.
- Openwetware: Created by graduate students at MIT in 2005, OpenWetWare is a wiki whose mission is "to support open research, education, publication, and discussion in biological sciences and engineering." All content is available under free content licenses.
- Many Eyes: Many Eyes is data-sharing site from the Visual Communication Lab at IBM. The platform allows users to upload data and then produce graphic representations for others to view and comment upon.
- Open Clinica: is an open source platform for clinical research, including electronic data capture (EDC) and clinical data management capabilities.
- Directory of Open Access Journals: DOAJ covers free, full text scientific and scholarly journals with different subjects and languages. The current directory (as of February 2011) includes 6100 journals and 506687 articles.