What scientists are we talking about?

research by SqueakyMarmot
Obligatory Reading of the Day: Opening up Scientific Culture [A Blog Around The Clock]:
[Via ScienceBlogs : Combined Feed]

Why are so many scientists reluctant to make full use of Web 2.0 applications, social networking sites, blogs, wikis, and commenting capabilities on some online journals?

Michael Nielsen wrote a very thoughtful essay exploring this question which I hope you read carefully and post comments.

Michael is really talking about two things – one is pre-publication process, i.e., how to get scientists to find each other and collaborate by using the Web, and the other is the post-publication process, i.e., how to get scientists to make their thoughts and discussions about published works more public.

Those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I am thinking along some very similar lines. If you combine, for instance, my review of Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge with

On my last scientific paper, I was both a stunt-man and the make-up artist with Journal Clubs – think of the future! with The Scientific Paper: past, present and probable future, you will see a similar thread of thinking.

But, what do you think?

Read the comments on this post…

Michael Nielsen’s essay is well worth reading, since it goes into some detail about the need for openness in science. It has a lot of depth and it very thought provoking.

The comments are also very interesting, with an ongoing dialog between skeptics and believers. But a lot of these discussions only examine the barriers and pressures of a very small slice of the researchers in the US.

The science that is discussed in these essays really only encompasses those scientists in research universities where tenure competition is the fiercest. Take a look at some recent statistics (2006):

22 million scientists/engineers in US
18.9 million actually employed
69.4% work in the business sector
11.8% work for the government
8.2% work at 4 year institutions
9.7% work in the business/industry sector for a non-profit

This discussion seems to have focused on just a small fraction (but an important one) of the number of scientists who would benefit from these tools. These researchers are funded by grants and are in tenure-track positions at 4 year research universities.

More scientists work at non-profits. What sorts of pressures are brought to bear there to prevent open collaboration? How different are these pressures from a research university? Those in business might also benefit from these approaches but have another set of barriers. Can they be surmounted?

This discussion is really important but it also conflates a large number of scientists/engineers who have different needs and pressures. There are 12 million in business who will have different needs than the 1.6 million at research universities.

How do Web 2.0 approaches impact them differently? Will some be more readily accepting of these tools than others?

We need to realize that scientists encompass a much larger group than those in tenure track positions at universities.

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