The Social of Social Media in Science
by Niels-Oliver Walkowski
on the 11. April 2010, 17:09 o'clock
In the last few years discussions in the Digital Humanities and eScience community are more and more focusing on the concepts developed in discussions about Social Web or Web 2.0. This means the âEURoediscoveryâEUR of not only the modeling, structuring and processing of scientific content but the area of interaction and communication in which this content is generated for the question how the digital spaces can affect and serve in the scientific field.
That this âEURoediscoveryâEUR is a quiet fresh one is demonstrated by the way in which the players are acting within the discussion and how Web 2.0 is perceived as a Social Media. We are all small utopists impressed by what is going on there, reactivating our longlife dreams with the hope they might become true this time (another argumentation about the âEURoefreshnessâEUR of Social Media in Science was given by Alexander Reid in his Blog Post: strategies for develop the digital humanities). It’s a little bit like in the early days of the Internet and the vision of a new pluralistic and democratic society with distributive justice of information and so on. Maybe some of these effects took place in some microcosms but the web also became the commercial web, we have the digital divide and studies say that the efficient use of the potential of the Internet has a lot to do with the social background of the user. Net neutrality is in danger because of US providers who want to be paid differently for different content and attempts of internet blocking by the European Union. The treatment of new inventions tend to isolate these inventions from the environment in which they appeared and in which they develop because they are so fascinating and new. The same happens with the Social Web and with the discussion how it could serve in the scientific process. The social web is social not only because it generates social interaction but also because it permits the representation of social dimensions. It’s innovative and reproductive at the same time. I want to discuss this dilemma (we will see later why this can be a dilemma) through the last Blog Post ReThinking Digital Social Media for Digital Humanities and Community Engagement by Terry Brock.
Talking about the That Camp 2010 and his interest in the topic of âEUREngaged Cultural Heritage Development, Archaeology, and Digital Social MediaâEUR he emphasizes three main aspects:
Researchers can communicate with people all over the world, as long as they have a cell phone or computer. In essence, this relationship can develop a new, digital community, that has a deep loyalty to a program or project. Second, the interaction is two-way, meaning that not only can researchers broadcast information, but consumers can ask questions about it and receive answers to their queries. Third, the posting can happen in real-time, meaning that scholars and the community can go about the process of doing research together, although remotely.
Making his points Brock stresses the first part of our dilemma. He talks about potentials of a technique but not about real scientists using this technique. What can I add having in mind my concerns. First people have to contribute a lot more than a cell phone or a computer to be part of a scientific digital community. They need differentiating capabilities to express themselves and to be recognized (Interesting: How does the fact that I am not an English native speaker and that my English is limited affect the reception of this Blog Post?). They need intellectual skills to handle digital communities and so on. For Brock the main goal behind his analysis is to be transparent about how we produce knowledge so that the public understands not only what the results of our research is, but how those results are reached. We have to comply with the fact that when we try to be transparent through digital spaces we are so only for a chosen group of people. I do not want to deny that the application of web 2.0 techniques can make science more transparent but we also have to think of the conditions and limits of this transparency.
This objection gets even more important in relation with Brocks second and third point. There is indeed a great opportunity to do research in a more interactive and community orientated way than without the Social Web. But what is the reality in scientific institutions and in everydays life of academics? Todays Scientists are not much more than independent traders. What they sell is their knowledge and as long as they have something to sell they can survive as scientists. And what is the main aspect of an expensive product – it’s rare. The idea of the paper I want to write is not very interesting forÂ a magazine if it was already elaborated by 10 other scientists. On the scientific market like on every other market there is no value in something everyone shares. Of course a community orientated research can produce more valuable knowledge. But this is a value in use which is not the same as the market value. It’s the second one which counts for a scientist who wants to do science for a longer part of his life regardless of whether he or she likes it or not. So there should be no wondering about the fact that âEURoeGen-F Scientists [are] Ignoring Social NetworkingâEURoe. Additionally Brock notices at the beginning of his Post: It seemed that most of the people at #ThatCamp were using these media to push content they had already created elsewhere. It would be arrogant to think most scientist could not assume which potential Social Web might have for their research. Instead they are bound to the imperatives and preconditions of the scientific milieu.
I do not want to play down the great possibilities of the Social Web and the advantages of transparency and interaction for research and my point would be mistaken if it is seen as critique of the discussion above. It’s more that I think we have to expend the discussion and include social aspects and preconditions for an efficient use of Social Web technologies in the scientific field. The development and use of new publication forms requires sustainable recognition of this ways for example. As long as only monographes or journal articles are officially valid, writing a blog article isn’t much more than a private passion of an interested researcher. The âEURoedevelopmentâEUR of eSciene has more than just technical aspects like it is worked out in the post of Reid. And even more it’s not a question of features (as it seems in David Bradley’s list of âEURoeSocial Media for ScientistsâEUR). More contradictions like the ones mentioned have to be identified and discussed by eScientists. If not done a lot can be thought and proposed but we leave scientists alone with their apprehension.