‘Science 2.0': is there a role for info pros?

Can ‘science 2.0' - the adoption of social media by the science community - be deemed a success? Info pros consider the issues.

Image: thanks to Urcomunicacion from Wikimedia Commons and Ookaboo!

Speakers in the European Librarians' Theatre at Online Information 2010 examined whether ‘science 2.0' - the adoption of social media by the science community - can be deemed a success.

Hervé Basset, an independent information professional from France pointed out that only 20,000 blogs are science related - equivalent to just 0.01% of the blogs on the web - and an estimated 600 scientists - out of 6 million - are Twitter users (otherwise known as ‘scientwists').

Why is science 2.0 failing? It's a confused market with too many tools and no killer app yet, says Basset. Most of the services available are not appropriate to the science culture - where the peer reviewed journal is still the model that makes sense and resonates the most strongly with practitioners. According to Basset, 90% of scientists are happy with their workflow and don't perceive a need for web 2.0. In fact, they already have more information than they can keep up with and in any case do not feel that web 2.0 brings qualitative information.

What about science librarians?

So what does this mean for science librarians? Citing David Stuart, Basset argued that "the challenge for libraries is to find ways to embrace social media without killing the potential."  Hervé stressed that "You need to choose the right train -- that is, where your users are" to have any chance of success.

Stephane Goldstein from Research Information Network was able to draw on the findings of two RIN research reports which examine open science and researcher behaviour. RIN found that most researchers do make use of web 2.0 tools but this is only in a limited and non-interactive way (for example, they might read a blog but wouldn't write one themselves). Although researchers are sympathetic to web 2.0 in general, that doesn't extend to doing anything about it!

Surprisingly, RIN did not find that there was a ‘Google generation' effect for professional usage - that is, younger professionals did not use web 2.0 services for work-related purposes any more than older professionals did.

Barriers to adoption included the fact that researchers simply do not understand what the benefit or advantage of using social media tools might be. Secondly, there were issues around trust. There was a high level of trust for peer reviewed journals (which are linked to securing career advancement and funding) but web 2.0 does not at present fit into the established context of scholarly communications, and web 2.0 methodologies are not seen as a substitute for the established modes. 

Goldstein pointed out that there is a paradox at work - only about 10% of respondents claimed to be completely sceptical, so there is certainly potential for the development of these methodologies in the future. Interestingly, attitudes to web 2.0 mirror attitudes to open science and open research in general.

What can be done? As Goldstein remarked, there is a role for universities in setting standards and providing guidance around things like preservation. However there is no quick fix: "We're not there yet, and if it does happen it's going to be a very, very long haul."

Infotoday.eu will be taking a longer look at open science, and its implications for info pros, in the new year.