Do Scientists really need their own social network?

Science is hard work. However, science is arguably among the most critical pursuits of humanity — one might even be so bold as to claim that along with the arts, science represents the very manifestation of our humanity.

The roots of scientific exploration and study lie not so much within the individual accomplishments of any single person, despite the emphasis we put on truly exceptional individuals like the Einsteins and Hawkings of the world. I propose that it is instead the community of scientists, rather, that really shape our understanding of the world around and within us. For without other scientists to parse the General Theory of Relativity, how else would Einstein have become such a household name?

Nowadays, we see an increasing amount of social interaction taking place online, empowered by technology. Therefore, it only makes sense that scientists move some of the communal discussion online. Mark Scott, writing for the New York Times, discusses an up and coming social network for scientists:

That is what Ijad Madisch, who founded the social network ResearchGate with three partners in 2008, had in mind when he ditched his budding scientific research career in Massachusetts to return home to Germany to build his start-up in Berlin’s fast-growing cluster of technology companies.

With nearly 12-million users, supposedly representing 60% of all potential users of the social network, ResearchGate announced today (Tuesday) that it had raised an additional $56-million in venture capital to continue its mission of connecting the world’s scientists.

It is not alone in making science more transparent and open. Cancer researchers, for instance, recently created a video game inspired by Space Invaders that allowed people to participate in the crunching of complex data on their smartphones by guiding a craft through space along paths based on genetic sequencing from breast cancer patients.

And as the likes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard increasingly offer online courses to anyone worldwide, even the concept of what it means to go to college — let alone conduct scientific research — is undergoing an upheaval.

What’s the Point?

The trend in scientific research could not be more clear. Through most of the 20th century, we saw a distinct privatization and commercialization of scientific research, leading to more and more proprietary and less accessible knowledge. That trend is reversing and the move is unquestionably one towards openness.

Playing “hide the ball” with knowledge, evidence and other facts may provide short-term wins for one’s own self interests. By sharing knowledge, and in particular, sharing knowledge gained from carefully vetted and peer-reviewed research is what enabled man to travel to both the vast reaches of outer space as well as to explore the microscopic cosmos of our own selves.

Science isn’t just a required subject in school, it is the path forward for humanity and the only hope of not further destroying our own planet.


Image courtesy Wikimedia