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Scientists shun Web 2.0

Catch 22.0

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SXSW Science publishers' efforts to have the research community sup the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid have failed, and scientists have given a resounding thumbs down to a gamut of crowd-tapping initiatives, showgoers at SXSW heard on Saturday.

A panel of science web publishers said scientists had consistently shunned wikis, tagging, and social networks, and have even proven reticent to leave comments on web pages.

The refusnik stance presents a puzzle in light of arguments in favour of Web 2.0 services which are more compelling for science than for trivia - the biggest web 2.0 market to date. The science game gave the world peer review after all, and scientists have often lauded and contributed to Wikipedia, despite its well-documented eccentricities and flaws.

Bio-Med Central boss Matt Cockerill invoked the example of the SWISS-PROT database to illustrate the value scientists could extract from greater online collaboration. The database is the hand-curated gold standard for protein sequence information, but the current backlog of proteins constantly being turned up by automated research techniques would take SWISS-PROT thousands of years to annotate. Convincing the research community to enter the information wiki-style, make the links to other proteins, and document the function would speed matters up considerably.

Digg-style bookmarking could work as a short cut to maximising the impact of scientists' work too. The impact factor of research papers has hither to been measured by how many later articles cite them; a painfully slow drip which takes years to build up.

The penetration problem seems to stem from the extremely competitive and rigorous funding process. Research projects have to justify every penny and minute spent by their scientists, presenting a catch 22 for web 2.0 as a tool for science. Researchers won't use the tools until they justify their worth, but they are worthless unless researchers use them.

It's a conundrum that makes science a notoriously conservative market for publishers. Nature's head of web publishing Timo Hannay confessed that of the firm's myriad Web 2.0 projects, only a couple bring in any revenue.

Perhaps their experience with Web 2.0 is not to be so different after all. ®

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