How Scientists Are Using the Social Web

Is there anyone out there more skeptical than a scientist? The ultimate spectator, the fly on the wall, seen, not heard, the most perfect life scientist notes every aspect of their subject matter, evaluates every angle, and effects nothing. A perfect experiment has absolute “control” over each variable. A perfect biologist enters an environment and leaves an ecosystem, like a perfect camper, exactly how they found it.

But what about the social web? How does the stereotypical cloistered academic or “mad” inventor deal with the social web, where information is bouncing around at a million milliseconds unverified, and interactions are unavoidable?

Here are some of the things I’ve heard these strange creatures discussing as I observe them in our community, The Science Advisory Board:

Scientists are very skeptical of Twitter, but they are on it, they are using it, and they are following the @ScienceAdvBoard! They listen more than they tweet, like to share and retweet science news, and discuss their interests outside of science.

Scientists are much more open to being on LinkedIn. They see it as a Rolodex for their colleagues, especially those who move around a lot. They aren’t very active about posting or checking it, as they would be with Twitter, but they do occasionally read email notifications. They will join a LinkedIn group, and they will find colleagues there, but they need to be asked.

There is an interesting cultural divide with the US and the rest of the world with respect to Facebook. US scientists are more skeptical of Facebook, while international scientists seem more willing to use Facebook to meet other scientists. They are also eager about using LinkedIn, but the same as US there. Facebook needs to be entertaining, and more sensational with stories because it is an informal community. Facebook allows connections with scientists on a personal level, so they often share their interests aside from their research interests.

This is built with the same software as Wikipedia, but each article is attributed to an author who is an expert in their field. This gives more credibility to Scholarpedia with the scientific community. Scientists are very skeptical about crowdsourced information because they know the truth is the crowd is often wrong. (Galileo ring a bell?) Scholarpedia still uses the power of crowdsourcing because people can submit edits to articles which are approved by the article moderator. This allows another principle of science, debate!

This is a video site alternative to Youtube, which scientists seem to prefer. The videos are typically better quality and the channels are more targeted. It’s easier to search videos by topic with less “junk” than on Youtube. Videos are more educational and scientists like to upload their own videos.

I hear this one from scientists a lot. Mendeley allows you to organize your papers you’re using for research, and to collaborate other researchers. You keep everything in PDFs and can use them across different media, (like your iPad, laptop, desktop, tablet). It automatically organizes your papers, and allows you to create groups to share the papers. You can also meet other researchers via their global groups.

“Since 2000, PLoS’s mission has been to make ‘the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.’”
One of the topics that scientists are always bringing up about the web is publications. Most long-standing publications are expensive to submit and to gain access to articles, which is completely against the principle of science, sharing information! The money and exclusivity ensures continued publications, quality standards and recognition for great discoveries, but scientists are becoming more interested in sites like PLoS to share articles and research subjects.

Faculty of 1,000
This is another free article site, but one that allows peer-reviewing, making it one of the most active open-access platforms. Scientists rank articles and journals too. Scientists using these platforms believe it’s an alternative to citation rankings. The “faculty” is really 1,000 scientists around the world who act as editors of the site. They were chosen by the members and serve in their expert areas and select articles in the same way regular journals do.



An alternative to Mendeley, without the social networking angle. Scientists highly recommend this, but it doesn’t have the same collaborative capabilities and capability for discovery.

This is one of the coolest protocol sources on the web because it’s all user submitted. You can submit it in different formats too, like video. The Science Advisory Board has a relationship with JOVE, the video protocol submission site, however they charge a large amount for their video submissions and usually shoot the video themselves. Anyone can upload videos to Protocolpedia, but the site has moderators of course. Scientists like Protocolpedia and our own protocol resource database because these are being done by scientists who are constantly of creative ways to do experiments better. It’s easier to find protocols that are fresh, relevant, and very specific to a given technique.

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