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A quick follow-up to last week’s post titled, “Scientists Still Not Joining Social Networks.” The NIH recently announced that they are financing “a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists” to the tune of $12.2 million (link via Richard Sever). I guess we’re seeing real progress made–every network used to advertise itself as “Myspace for scientists” , so at least we’ve moved into the Facebook era.

If there’s any hope for success for such a network, the NIH is probably the best bet as the host and organizer. They’ve already got the massive database covering the literature in PubMed. Unlike most of the companies and publishers trying to capitalize on this space, the NIH can create a truly neutral system, one that isn’t limited to featuring one company’s products or connections to only one publisher’s journals. A taxpayer-funded network would also be free from the pressure of having to find a sustainable business model to ensure survival. Of course, science is a global activity, so it’s unclear whether a US government-run network would play nicely with non-US scientists.

That said, I’m willing to bet that this effort ends up doing about as well as all the other failures of the last several years. As Ted Freeman noted in the comments on the last article, the vast majority of scientists work in the for-profit sector, not in academia, and the open sharing of a social network is generally antithetical to the aims of those companies. Even more damning is the kool-aid drinking attitude displayed by the head of the project being funded here:

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”

A careful review of the literature to find a collaborator who has a history of publishing quality results in a field is “haphazard”, whereas placing a want-ad, or collaborating with one’s online chat buddies, is systematic? Yikes.

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David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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