An Argument Against Science 2.0

Quite a number of extremely intelligent, insightful, and innovative scientists have been discussing the idea of open science and/or “Science 2.0”, generally meaning a more social approach to the practice of science. This has been going on for a number of years now. Here is a snapshot of the terms used in the conversation in 2009.

Science 2.0, Take 1

Here is a snapshot of the terms used in the conversation in 2012.

Science 2.0, Take 2

The conversation has only grown and expanded and morphed over those years, with ever increasing focus on collaboration, transparency, and sharing. Many at NIH are supporting the core ideas, many other leading funding agencies, many science thought-leaders and influential names in science. There has been this increasing PUSH for scientists, clinicians, clinical researchers, and academics to engage in online spaces and social media; to become more open and involved in conversations in public spaces and with the public.

A big part of the conversation has been around how do we, the academics / scientists / thought leaders etc., who are already engaged in this space and who deeply understand the value of it persuade our colleagues to join us in these spaces and activities? The arguments in favor of it are many.

– More citations to your work.
– Increased accuracy, especially better error checking, data cleaning, and fact checking before publication.
– Books born as blogs seem to be more likely to win awards.
– You discover more potential research collaborators.
– More potential research collaborators discover you.
– You have an automatic verifiable date-stamp on your statements and concepts, preventing or reducing intellectual theft.
– Access to more and different data.
– More rapid turnover of concepts.
– More rapid response to research information needs.
– Increased pace of scientific discovery.
– Citizen science.
– Increased productivity.
– Research that has never before been possible.
– You’ll recruit more research subjects, or more patients.
– … and much much more.

(Yes, I need later to pull in some citations in support of this list.)

However, gushing at other scientists about how wonderful we’ve found the online ocean doesn’t seem to be making big waves. If anything, for every few who join, many more are afraid to dip their toe in what might be cold water on what is perceived as a rocky shore.

Upper Peninsula - Vacation 2009

Recently, I’ve been having a number of conversations about why it is so inexplicably difficult to convince scientists to engage in social media. This is a conversation that seems to be happening with increasing frequency, in the healthcare social media community as well as in the open science community. Last month, I was talking with Andrew Maynard about this. The context was that a team I’m working with has yet another effort underway to attempt to build a broader engagement with social media among our peers on campus and in the region. Andrew is, on our campus and beyond, a leading voice arguing in favor of engaging with social media. He is also one of the sweetest folk I’ve ever met, genuinely interested and enthusiastic at the same time that he applies a keen intelligence to problem-solving.

I expected him to be as enthusiastic as he usually is about the project I wanted to describe. Instead, he played devil’s advocate. As a proponent of social media who is in a leading position in the University, his conversations about it tend to be less of “preaching to the choir” and more along the lines of serious academic debate. So for every reason I could provide to try to persuade folk how useful this could be for them, he had a counter-argument from those debates.

More likely to win an award with your book? I don’t need an award, I just need tenure.

Increased accuracy of your research? I don’t need it to be perfect, I just need it to be published.

More credibility with the public? Less credibility with my tenure committee or my peers in this department.


The gist of it was that social media is more likely to appeal and benefit those who are working above and beyond the norm, those who want to make a difference in the lives of the many, those who want to change the world for the better.

I went away and thought very hard about this. Discussed it with my team. Discussed it with others. Brought it up in Twitter chats. And now I want to get others thinking and talking about it. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to convince all of our peers about the wonders of social media and online collaboration.

Perhaps “Science 2.0” or social science really isn’t appropriate for all scientists. Or all doctors. Perhaps “Science 2.0” is best for those who want to make a difference in the world, a difference in someone’s life, who want to foster change, who want to achieve renown, who want to give back to the community, who want to partner or collaborate with others, who want to share their excitement and enthusiasm for science. Maybe open science is really only for the leaders and the best.

What do you think?


12 responses to “An Argument Against Science 2.0

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  2. Kaitlyn Patterson

    Great post!

    I agree that it is be a difficult undertaking to get scientists to contribute to social media, and I’m not convinced it would be a good thing with the growing avalanche of blogs and media. However, there is a lot to be learned even without contributing to the conversation. Although the system would fall apart if everyone became “lurkers” I don’t think this is a threat to the system. The “leaders and best” should continue to contribute content, set the example, and propose ideas while the rest encouraged to at least be aware and open. Just being tuned in to the conversations and becoming aware of communities relevant to their work I think can help to foster open minds for big changes that will hopefully occur in science soon. Participation at different levels through commenting and subscribing are an important pieces of the puzzle that may get overlooked if everyone is devoting precious time to crafting their own social media niche.

    Maybe immersion in open science isn’t for everyone but everyone should at least be tuned in.


    • In my conversation with Andrew, he suggested that perhaps trying to convince everyone this is a good thing may not be an appropriate use of resources, as well as not likely to be successful. So then the idea becomes WHO, and HOW, and WHY. If Andrew is right (and I think he’s really onto something), focusing on those with drive, passion, vision, and caring are the right ones. And if those are who you are targeting, then telling them it will get them awards or more money may not be the most appropriate strategy. Not that it doesn’t hurt to actually get the data showing where and how it makes a difference, to prove value to funders and administrators, but not as an effort to convince the folk who will really do. Andrew is just so unutterably brilliant and insightful. (PS – Just for the record, this is all my own understanding of the conversation. Please don’t anyone blame him for anything I’ve said! Unless you like it.)


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  4. I enjoyed this post but I am surprised you didn’t address the post-publication peer review sites. It seems that just by simply starting a conversation on articles after their publication we can make a big difference and would be something that could attract the participation of all scientists. These sites ( etc) are different from the commenting that exists on some journal websites because the conversation is centralized to one place and allows reasonable comments to be placed anonymously. This is one aspect of science 2.0 that I expect to make a very big difference in the coming yuears once everyone knows about it and a critical mass is reached.


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