Social Networking For Scientists

by Dish Staff

ResearchGate is “essentially a scholarly version of Facebook or LinkedIn” that allows members “a place to create profile pages, share papers, track views and downloads, and discuss research.” It’s certainly gaining traction with researchers:

More than 4.5 million researchers have signed up for ResearchGate, and another 10,000 arrive every day, says Madisch. That is a pittance compared with Facebook’s 1.3 billion active users, but astonishing for a network that only researchers can join. And [co-founder Ijad] Madisch has grand goals for the site: he hopes that it will become a key venue for scientists wanting to engage in collaborative discussion, peer review papers, share negative results that might never otherwise be published, and even upload raw data sets. “With ResearchGate we’re changing science in a way that’s not entirely foreseeable,” he says, telling investors and the media that his aim for the site is to win a Nobel prize.

Though the project has attracted support – and counts Bill Gates among its investors – some have voiced criticism:

[M]any wonder why researchers would deposit their data sets and reviews on these new social networks, rather than elsewhere online — on their own websites, for example, in university repositories, or on dedicated data-storage sites such as Dryad or figshare…. To Madisch, the answer lies with the social sites’ burgeoning communities of users — the famed ‘network’ effect. “If you post on ResearchGate, you are reaching the people who matter,” he says. But Titus Brown, a computational scientist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, is concerned about the sites’ business plans as they seek to survive. “What worries me is that at some point ResearchGate will use their information to make a profit in ways that we are uncomfortable with — or they will be bought by someone who will do that,” he says.

One academic who signed up had more pointed criticism of the “RG score” assigned to users, described as “a metric that measures scientific reputation based on how all of your research is received by your peers”:

The current score is, not to put a too fine point on it, totally useless. There is a more or less universally agreed on ranking of scholars which is based on CVs and the offers they get. There is also a correct ranking based on the originality and quality of research. These two rankings are typically very different. The RG score is similar to neither.

If the score is the most useless feature of RG, the most annoying feature is the aggressive way in which they try to force you to update your site. First, their minions search the web for every old version of your papers, and once they find it they will suggest that you add it you your profile. I say `suggest’ but it’s not like you can refuse. You can choose between `yes’ and `maybe later’. And by `later’ they mean next time you log in. In the end you either surrender or accidentally click yes.