Monday, January 21, 2008

Collaborative Technologies and Science: More Tools or More Risk?

Social networking has begun to make inroads in the scientific community. The Scientific American recent article, Science 2.0: Great New Tool, or Great Risk, discusses wikis, blogs, and other technologies and how their usage by researchers could be transforming how science is researched, published, disseminated, and viewed. Research work is beginning to become available through blogs, wikis, and social networks by a small but growing group of researchers.

In Eric Schell's post, Evidence of the Value of Blogs as Scholarship, he mentions a case where a postdoc geneticist received credit and acknowledgement for his blog entries. Reed Cartwright posted his random thoughts on a mutant plant gene on his blog in March 2005. One year later after reading the post Luca Comai, a plant geneticist, contacted Reed. He and said that he had coincidentally arrived at the same hypothesis, and was about to publish his research in Plant Cell. Comai said he felt obligated to acknowledge Mr. Cartwright’s blog post and offered to make him a co-author of his article. Mr. Cartwright, who is not a plant geneticist, accepted the offer.

Of course this method of information and knowledge sharing is not without controversy. While there are researchers praising the transparent and "open notebook" approach citing various success stories like OpenWetWare, UsefulChem, Chembarkothers, there are others worried about potential minefields. The fear of being scooped and the lack of attribution and credit can be huge barriers to overcome in a system where being the first to report a discovery, publishing peer reviewed journals and having heavily cited articles is the foundation for promotion within scientific community.

I like what Bora Zivkovic said in the Scientific American article, "It's a Darwinian process. About 99 percent of these ideas are going to die. But some will emerge and spread." I think that not only sums up the evolution of these tools in science but other disciplines as well such as medicine, education, and libraries.

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The Krafty Librarian has been a medical librarian since 1998. She is currently the medical librarian for a hospital system in Ohio. You can email her at: