Scientists shun Web 2.0
A panel of science web publishers said scientists had consistently shunned wikis, tagging, and social networks, and have even proven reticent to leave comments on web pages.
The refusnik stance presents a puzzle in light of arguments in favour of Web 2.0 services which are more compelling for science than for trivia - the biggest web 2.0 market to date.
The penetration problem seems to stem from the extremely competitive and rigorous funding process. Research projects have to justify every penny and minute spent by their scientists, presenting a catch 22 for web 2.0 as a tool for science. Researchers won't use the tools until they justify their worth, but they are worthless unless researchers use them.
David's examination of this problem is somewhat more insightful than the article at the Register, and he mentions a couple of good reasons why scientists do not use the Web2.0 all that extensively, and I find myself agreeing with him.
- First of all, there is the issue of time. We're all busy already anyhow, and since there seems to be a correlation between lack of time and what is commonly considered a successful career, there is the effect that those with more expertise shy away from doing anything not directly career related.
- Then there is the problem of lacking incentives. Why spend time on something for which you receive no credit? When one can passively benefit from other's activities, why be active oneselves? I.e. when you read a commentary on a paper and you disagree on the opinion put forward, is there a benefit of starting an argument, or were you just interested in hearing other peoples thoughts?
- Further there is the overabundance of offers. There are loads of sites that do more or less the same. I am a curious person, and I sign up for many things just to have a look and then wait and see where it goes. In such a way I must have a dozen of accounts I never use and can't even recall. NatureNetworks is presently one of the Web2.0 offers that looks quite promising to me. But I guess most people just choose not to choose until peer pressure gets high enough. In a conservative community this can take a while.
- And then there is the most obvious factor in which sites need to be appropriate for the community, and no, a MySpace for science probably doesn't sound very convincing for most of my colleagues. (Yes, I do have a MySpace account. No, I never use it.) As David puts it "Scientists interact in very different ways than teenager and their peers, or rock bands and their fans. Scientists don’t find collaborators by chatting online with strangers."
When it comes to science blogging, Sean Carroll is quoted with saying that way scientists communicate is already efficient and thus physics blogs are unlikely to play a more prominent role. I do mostly agree with him, but this statement depends so some extend on the infrastructure of your workplace. If more people come through your institution than you can possibly talk to anyhow, you certainly have no need to find like minded people online, but not everybody everywhere is thus lucky.
As I explained in my last year's post Physics Blogs, I further do also not think that blogs are a good medium for scientific discussions simply because of the organization (the host being able to edit and censor, the journal-like structure, the background noise).
Blogs are however useful to provide readers with an impression of how the work and life of scientists looks like, and they thus contribute to making the 'ivory tower' a little less detached. They further fulfil a social networking function within the community in that one frequently find advises on how to give talks, prepare presentations, deal with complicated coworkers, write applications or proposals and other topics of that category where people exchange experiences.
Sean further is quoted with
“A blog raises your profile, but it raises your profile for something other than research. [E]ven if you are extremely productive as a scholar, some professors may view a blog as sign that you could be spending more time in the laboratory or library, engaged in traditional research.”
Well, this doesn't seem to go very well with the above assertion that very few scientists notice the existence of the blogosphere altogether. Though the fraction of people in the community who have heard of one or the other blog is increasing. Anyway, some might say the same about other activities, like engaging in interest groups or surfing. This concern also isn't at all confirmed by my experience. Blogging or not, as long as I got my work done in a timely manner to the satisfaction of my supervisors and/or employers they didn't care very much how, where or when I worked, or what else I was doing. That is one of the few features (possibly the only one) that makes the academic world attractive for me.
A colleague (who shell remain unnamed because he doesn't like his name to appear in the blogosphere) recently mentioned he stopped reading this blog because he finds it scary I'm writing so much. Well, I on the other hand find it scary other people talk so much! The science blogs I read I find very different in the composition of topics (and in the quality of writing), but the one thing I guess all bloggers share is that they like to write.