Jan Knight Social media for scientific collaboration
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Thursday, 19th January 2012 Sign in to MyJinfo or create an account be able to star items Printable version Subscribe via RSS to get updates as soon as Blog items are added

By Jan Knight

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As we spent Wednesday 18 January in the United States pondering whether a partial internet blackout was going to have any effect on future legislation, or who it might affect, I’ve been reading about a group of professionals who have traditionally not collaborated or shared information online as much as they have been able to in recent times.

A New York Times article, Cracking open the scientific process, takes a look at how for centuries science advances have come about by writing in peer-reviewed journals and waiting for others to read and comment and move forward with their own research. But recently, advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the internet.

Among the newest tools to foster this collaboration is ResearchGatea sort of “Facebook for scientists”. Here scientists can answer one another's questions, share papers, find collaborators and actually choose to “follow” other individuals. ResearchGate began in 2008 with few employees, few members and few features.

Now membership is currently about 1.3 million and venture capitalists, typically more commonly associated with such companies as Twitter, eBay and Facebook, have helped to fund the venture. In 2011, ResearchGate reported, 1,620,849 connections were made, 12,342 questions answered and 842,179 publications shared.

The idea of scientists collaborating online is not totally new, but it may be that Research Gate moves the concept into the social media environment more than others. Earlier web based collaboration tools for scientists include Wingu, where scientists in the pharmaceutical industry can collaborate and store documents for easy access and analysis. Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of Google, has continued to invest in this cloud-based application that allows “more connective ways to get to the next decision point”.

An even earlier research-focused discovery tool, VIVO, also coined the Facebook for Scientists, was developed at Cornell University. VIVO was used as the basis for a $12 million, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded, seven university projects designed to network researchers around the country.

Scitable, also described as a Social Network for Science focuses on genetics and cell biology.

Some of these tools appear to be more like an enhanced library, others a collaborative work space for document sharing, and others again a way to actually connect and network with other scientists. 

It appears that the stereotypical solo scientist alone in the lab may now be turning into someone who can connect, follow and collaborate with other like-minded individuals without even leaving the lab. This will be an interesting area of social media to follow to see if scientific discovery can be speeded up with such short cuts to networking and collaboration.

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