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Science 2.0: Great New Tool, or Great Risk?

Mike Ciavarella's picture

Welcome to a Scientific American experiment in "networked
journalism," in which readers—you—get to collaborate with the author to
give a story its final form.


The article,
below, is a particularly apt candidate for such an experiment: it's my
feature story on "Science 2.0," which describes how researchers are
beginning to harness wikis, blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies as a
potentially transformative way of doing science. The draft article
appears here, several months in advance of its print publication, and
we are inviting you to comment on it. Your inputs will influence the
article’s content, reporting, perhaps even its point of view.

consider yourself invited. Please share your thoughts about the promise
and peril of Science 2.0.—just post your inputs in the Comment section
below. To help get you started, here are some questions to mull over:

  • What do you think of the article itself? Are there errors? Oversimplifications? Gaps?
  • What
    do you think of the notion of "Science 2.0?" Will Web 2.0 tools really
    make science much more productive? Will wikis, blogs and the like be
    transformative, or will they be just a minor convenience?
  • Science
    2.0 is one aspect of a broader Open Science movement, which also
    includes Open-Access scientific publishing and Open Data practices. How
    do you think this bigger movement will evolve?
  • Looking
    at your own scientific field, how real is the suspicion and mistrust
    mentioned in the article? How much do you and your colleagues worry
    about getting “scooped”? Do you have first-hand knowledge of a case in
    which that has actually happened?
  • When young scientists speak out on an open blog or wiki, do they risk hurting their careers?
  • Is
    "open notebook" science always a good idea? Are there certain aspects
    of a project that researchers should keep quite, at least until the
    paper is published?

--M. Mitchell Waldrop

explosively growing World Wide Web has rapidly transformed retailing,
publishing, personal communication and much more. Innovations such as
e-commerce, blogging, downloading and open-source software have forced
old-line institutions to adopt whole new ways of thinking, working and
doing business.

Science could be next. A small but growing
number of researchers--and not just the younger ones--have begun to
carry out their work via the wide-open blogs, wikis and social networks
of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be
called a movement--yet--their experiences to date suggest that this
kind of Web-based "Science 2.0" is not only more collegial than the
traditional variety, but considerably more productive.

happens not just because of people doing experiments, but because
they're discussing those experiments," explains Christopher Surridge,
editor of the Web-based journal, Public Library of Science On-Line
Edition (PLoS ONE). Critiquing, suggesting, sharing ideas and
data--communication is the heart of science, the most powerful tool
ever invented for correcting mistakes, building on colleagues' work and
creating new knowledge. And not just communication in peer-reviewed
papers; as important as those papers are, says Surridge, who publishes
a lot of them, "they're effectively just snapshots of what the authors
have done and thought at this moment in time. They are not
collaborative beyond that, except for rudimentary mechanisms such as
citations and letters to the editor."

The technologies of Web 2.0 open up a much richer dialog, says Bill Hooker, a postdoctoral cancer
researcher at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Ore., and
the author of a three-part survey of open-science efforts in the group
blog, 3 Quarks Daily. "To me, opening up my lab notebook means giving
people a window into what I'm doing every day. That's an immense leap
forward in clarity. In a paper, I can see what you've done. But I don't
know how many things you tried that didn’t work. It's those little
details that become clear with open notebook, but are obscured by every
other communication mechanism we have. It makes science more
efficient." That jump in efficiency, in turn, could have huge payoffs
for society, in everything from faster drug development to greater
national competitiveness.




Backreaction pointed me an excellent article by Michael Nielsen called The Future of Science.

I think it's worth a read.

Some quotes:

"The Newton-Leibniz controversy over who invented calculus occurred because Newton claimed to have invented calculus in the 1660s and 1670s, but didn’t publish until 1693. In the meantime, Leibniz developed and published his own version of calculus. Imagine modern biology if the human genome had been announced as an anagram, or if
publication had been delayed thirty years."

"The adoption and growth of the scientific journal system has created a body of shared knowledge for our civilization, a collective long-term memory which is the basis for much of human progress. This system has changed surprisingly little in the last 300 years. The internet offers us the first major opportunity to improve this collective long-term
memory, and to create a collective short-term working memory, a conversational commons for the rapid collaborative development of ideas. The process of scientific discovery - how we do science - will change more over the next 20 years than in the past 300 years."

"Science is an example par excellence of creative collaboration, yet scientific collaboration still takes place mainly via face-to-face meetings. With the exception of email, few of the new social tools have been broadly adopted by scientists, even though it is these tools which have the greatest potential to improve how science is done.

Why have scientists been so slow to adopt these remarkable tools? Is
it simply that they are too conservative in their habits, or that the new tools are no better than what we already have? Both these glib answers are wrong. We’ll resolve this puzzle by looking in detail at two examples where excellent online tools have failed to be
adopted by scientists. What we’ll find is that there are major cultural barriers which are preventing scientists from getting involved, and so slowing down the progress of science."

And of particular interest to iMechanica

"The problem all these sites have is that while thoughtful commentary on scientific papers is certainly useful for other scientists, there are few incentives for people to write such comments. Why write a comment when you could be doing something more “useful”, like writing a paper or a grant? Furthermore, if you publicly criticize someone’s paper, there’s a chance that that person may be an anonymous referee in a
position to scuttle your next paper or grant application.

To grasp the mindset here, you need to understand the monklike intensity that ambitious young scientists bring to the pursuit of scientific publications and grants. To get a position at a major University the most important thing is an impressive record of scientific papers. These papers will bring in the research grants and letters of recommendation necessary to be hired. Competition for positions is so fierce that 80 hour plus work weeks are common. The pace relaxes after tenure, but continued grant support still requires a strong work ethic. It’s no wonder people have little inclination to contribute to the online comment sites."


-- Biswajit


Roozbeh Sanaei's picture

This problem can be solved by giving some sort of credit to people who contribute to Science 2.0 mostly those who contribute to "WIKI-STYLE PAPERS".

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