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Sociable Scientists

I’ve been a bit slow noticing this article, but two weeks ago PLoS Biology published a piece on its community page entitled “Leveraging the Knowledge of Our Peers: Online Communities Hold the Promise to Enhance Scientific Research” from Thomas Sharpton and Arpan Jhaveri.

These two enterprising individuals have set up a website called SIPHS as an attempt to create in science the equivalent of social networking sites such as facebook or openBC.

It seems to me that the advantages of social networking to scientists are obvious; science is a collaborative endeavour which proceeds much faster when knowledge is shared; especially mundane knowledge like how to get a particular assay to work. Yet the fact remains that there is no prominent social networking site on the web for scientists. Why is that?

Sharpton and Jhaveri put it like this “The most fundamental limitation is […] the level of community participation[…], for some reason or another, scientists have been reluctant to join and participate in virtual communities. We believe this problem is a result of the unfamiliarity and relative novelty of community-based tools in the scientific domain, and are hopeful that by exposing information regarding their existence, researchers will be more willing to adopt them into their research repertories.”

I’m not convinced by that argument. I think that the reason that sites like SIPHS could have difficulties building a community is because scientists are already organised into communities based around learned societies and journals. Scientists have no reluctance to adopt the tools of social networking sites, but they are reluctant to join yet another community.

If web-based social networking is to become established in science it needs to be implemented around already existing scientific networks.

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