Yet another entrant into the fray, ResearchGATE (found via Bora’s blog). As usual, I’m not sure what the point is, or how this particular site will differentiate itself from all the others. I’m particularly pessimistic, given their mission statement:

“Instead of disseminating scientific results in regularly scheduled and printed journal issues, now a continuous release of articles in online format will change and expedite the way new results are spread. Without anonymous review processes, open access journals or wiki-like concepts will assure the quality of science. Hidden conglomerates of various interests will give way to transparent and traceable new concepts of scientific impact measurements. Science is collaboration, so scientific social networks, wikis and other means of collaboration will facilitate and improve the way scientists collaborate.”

Which is well-intentioned, to be sure, but strikingly naive and unrealistic.
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I mean really, does anyone think Wikipedia is free from hidden conglomerates, or secret agendas by various interest groups?

As far as facilitating research, I’ll ask a question I’ve asked before. Top journals reject greater than 90% of what’s submitted to them. If you’re a hard-working scientist, how much of your time are you willing to devote to reviewing the bottom 5% of those rejections? Forget the really good papers, or the papers that would have a direct impact on your research, which you’ll need to read also. What about the rejected papers from lesser journals? How many days of your week are you willing to commit to digging through the dregs? Unless you’re willing to do this, then why should anyone else read or review your paper? Isn’t it likely in a social network set-up that you’ll see the top-rated papers coming from scientists who are the best-connected, rather than those doing the best research? Aren’t online social networks really based on the idea of leveraging status from one’s connections? Some would argue this already extends to the world of science blogging. Doesn’t this lead to more of a popularity contest, and less of a meritocracy?

The credibility of what you read online is nicely covered in this article, (found via The Digitalist). It’s a great description of how easy it is to spread misinformation online. Sure, eventually someone figured out that the story wasn’t true, but as the article points out, most readers will never know that. The original untrue articles are all archived online. How many people who read them when they came out, or stumble across them in the future will dig deeply enough to find out the story was a hoax? Is this really the best way of spreading research? As Jason Scott has famously pointed out:

Wikipedia really wastes energy, that’s it’s little secret. You say, wow, this is … you know, it’s an amazingly inefficient process. Not just like, we could really tune the spark plugs and it’ll run a little better. I mean literally just dropping ballast as it goes.

Wouldn’t it be better to set up a system where untrustworthy material can be weeded out in advance so you don’t have to waste your time? Maybe we could call the person who does this an “editor”.