Killing the Scientific Process

January 17, 2012

Brit Trogen

Mmm... science.


Getting new data to the public can sometimes be prohibitively difficult. Studies are submitted to scientific journals where they are evaluated by peers (though finding a true "peer" when you're in a highly specialized field is a challenge all its own) where they may be rejected, or, if you're lucky, accepted with the requirement of further research.


Some results may never see the light of day, simply because they aren't significant or extensive enough to warrant a full paper. And let's not even get started on the issue of negative results.


But where does my extensive knowledge of Star Trek fit?


Proponents of Open Science are aiming to turn this system on its head, with advocates claiming that science can progress much faster through open collaboration on the internet. Already there are a host of websites and online journals to accomplish this: PLOS, which offers free access to the public; MathOverflow, where users earn reputation points by contributing to math solutions. Even education, with the help of AcademicEarth and KhanAcademy, is becoming freely available online.


And for the social researcher, there may be no better option than ResearchGate, the scientist's facebook, which has expanded in the last year to more than 1.3 million users. This relatively new social network allows researchers to share papers by linking to their websites, create public discussions, and possibly find collaborators. Instead of baby and travel pictures, impress your friends with contributions to science!


Sidestepping traditional scientific journals does, of course, raise some problems. How are papers to be evaluated, and the integrity of scientists policed? Furthermore, how can you convince highly influential scientists to give their data away for free? For now, landing the cover of Nature or Science is a far more prestigious achievement than gaining "reputation points" on ResearchGate.


But who knows? With the advent of Science 2.0 just around the corner, perhaps some day that will no longer be true... 



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