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How virtual science communities are transforming academic research

A recent webinar on social networks drew 500+ scholars – read about the highlights and watch the videos

[caption id="attachment_15295" align="alignleft" width="110"]Mike Taylor Mike Taylor[/caption]

The Author

Mike Taylor (@herrison), who moderated this webinar, has worked at Elsevier for 16 years, the past four as a technology research specialist for the Elsevier Labs group. In that role, he has been involved with the ORCID Registry. His other research interests include altmetrics, contributorship and author networks. Details of his research work can be found on the Elsevier Labs website. He is based in Oxford. [divider]

The changing landscape of scholarly research offers us a rich set of opportunities for increasing the speed and reach of research. But at the same time, new ways of working can be daunting, and the change of pace bewildering. The Individual and Scholarly Networks – a recent virtual seminar by Research Trends and Elsevier Labs – enabled us to showcase some of the most pioneering thinkers and practitioners in the field of scholarly networks and network evaluation and bring fresh ideas to a global audience. They talked about how social networks are creating new channels for global conversations about academic research and changing the essence of the peer review process.

[caption id="attachment_17226" align="alignright" width="360"]

The webinar

Webinar presenters

To watch the presentations, click on this image.

The presenters

  • Mike Taylor, Technology Research Specialist for Elsevier Labs, moderated the program of presentations. Guests were:

The presentations

To watch the videos, read the Q&A – and find out about upcoming events, visit the Research Trends/Elsevier Labs events page. [divider]

Read what others have written

  • Dr. Ernesto Priego, a Lecturer in Library Science at City University London, wrote a post with his insights for the Altmetrics blog.
  • J. Britt Holbrook, Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at the University of North Texas, wrote about the seminar on his CSID blog.
  • Check out people's Twitter comments via Dr. Priego's Storify: Part 1 and Part 2.[/caption]

We hope the videos, notes and presentations from this seminar and those in the future will be a useful resource for people interested in scholarly research and te new and innovative ways it's being communicated.

Science has moved online. Scholars are using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and scholarly blogs to connect and communicate with people in the research community, and to and seek out collaborators. The dog-eared but un-cited article that previously collected dust on a shelf now lives on sites like ScienceDirect and PubMed Central, where it can be seen and counted.

The hallway conversation about a recent finding has moved to blogs and social networks where anyone can listen in. The local genomics dataset is now in an online repository where it can be tracked. The opportunity to create real-time recommendations and collaborative filtering systems is potentially limitless. A researcher can opt for a discipline-specific feed of the most cutting-edge and significant work in the field, shrinking the communication cycle from years to weeks or days.

And while the debate about open access is ongoing, a quieter and perhaps more relevant discussion is that of shared access or open data that enables the science world to examine ongoing research and create a forum for discussion. These are some of the bigger issues at the center of scholarly networks and new ways for researchers to collaborate, and they came up in this virtual seminar, which drew more than 500 participants from almost every continent, some of them participating on Twitter via the hashtag #scholnet. Here are some highlights of the discussions:

  • On quality: The Internet may be changing how scientific research is done, but quality results still matter. However the interpretation of quality needs to shift to appropriateness of time, place and purpose. Key to ensuring quality outcomes is clarity on what the data is for and creating the context in which it needs to be viewed. Even more crucial is understanding the process behind the work and the methods employed. With research now more interdisciplinary and the Internet allowing for a global audience, researchers need to be clear about the methods employed so the experiments can be recreated and tested. Documenting the why behind an experiment is as important as the how — a seldom recorded but crucial element to future research.
  • On reducing costs: Research cycles can be drastically reduced if information can be found faster and shared with other experts for cross pollination of ideas, which stimulates innovation. But data overload is a problem. Scarcity of data is no longer an issue – managing it is. No one can read everything, and scholars must rely on new online scholarly tools to filter the data in order to select the most relevant information for their work. As Gordon pointed out, access to early research increases relevant research, and networked science allows researchers to explore what influenced a given process and the related outcomes. For example, if resarchers can see that someone else is doing similar research, they can refine their own work so that it is compatible rather than duplicating efforts.
  • On the networking the research cycle: Building an online research community is not about likes or friending; it's about sharing knowledge. Work can be created in open forums for others to comment and note and promoted via Twitter feeds. Broadening access beyond the research community to include all potential stakeholders (such as funders, policymakers and potential beneficiaries), generates wider engagement and collaboration. Such shared knowledge can help to shorten the research cycle and the route to potentially life-saving discoveries.
  • On open access: Open access makes it easier to access a paper but not necessarily easier to use. Research should be shared, and with it the ideas and people behind them, but it is naïve to think that all data can or should be free; it does need to be paid for. Information needs to be vetted and structured for it to be useful to those who use it for their work. However, open access does level the playing field for researchers everywhere, especially those in developing countries who can tap into resources previously inaccessible to anyone not connected with an institution. How that it is interpreted is open to debate, and while the argument about open access continues in the social media sphere, researchers still value the prestige of being seen in the right journals and the value and impact of a good name.
  • On accountability: Accountability is not about following the law or proper management of funding, although these are important. Accountability means being responsible to all stakeholders including those beyond the institution walls, such as funding organizations, policymakers and the public at large. Is research applicable to social issues? Are the stakeholders involved in the process? As Barr pointed out, since 2010, all federally funded research in the US [MG4] is required to demonstrate societal impacts.
  • On evaluation: Evaluation – and how it is conducted – matters. It influences who gets hired, who receives grants, which journals are a success and the entire structure of science communication, so it is crucial that evaluation processes are examined in the broader context in which they take place. Research processes differ widely in different disciplines and sometimes even within the discipline itself. What's being measured? What might be lost in translation? How do you justify outcomes? Is quantitative evaluation worth the price? Is what's being left out important? Is it useful to fellow researchers? How is it socially relevant?


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