Scientific American on Science 2.0

In 2008 Scientific American published an article on Science 2.0, in this post I’ll try to recapture some of the main points of this article. The article start of by pointing out that Web 2.0 has influenced institutions like journalism, marketing, … by allowing users to publish, edit and collaborate with online information. Science could be next in line.


Critiquiquing, suggesting, sharing ideas and data is the heart of science, it is a powerful tool for correcting errors, building on colleagues’ work and fashioning new knowledge. Classic peer-reviewed papers are important but are not collaborative beyond that. Web 2.0 could open up a much richer dialogue! An example is open notebook science where a classic paper show the result, an open notebook allows people to see the research in more detail ( things someone tries but didn’t work out, … ). Some of the advantages of this open access are:

  • more collaboratite and therefore more productive
  • efficiency
  • faster development
  • competitiveness


Critics are afraid of the risk that comes with the openness like people copying or exploiting the work of others and even gain credit or patents for the work of others. In some fields of science patents, promotion and tenure can hinge on being the first to publsh a new discovery, so putting your work online might not be a good idea.

Success stories

Next the article tells us about some success stories. The write tells us that scientists have built up their knowledge about the world by “crowdsourcing” the contributions of many researchers and then refining that knowledge through open debate. Web 2.0 fits perfectly with the way science works, it’s just a matter of time before the transition will happen.


The article starts with the example of a wiki based on the same software as Wikipedia, called OpenWetWare. It is a collaborative website that can be edited by any one. It started of as a project to keep two labs up-to-date. Soon they discovered it was also a convient way to place posts about what they were learning about lab techniques (how-to’s, …). A side effect was that this information became available to the world and soon people who were searching information with Google found out about the website and started contributing. After a while enough people joined and dynamically evolving class sites where created, to share information. Another benefit mentioned in the article was it’s use in laboratory management, where it is hard to keep up with what your own team members are doing and organizing information. OpenWetWare is a solution for this problem and also allows people to access it from anywhere. Lately OpenWetWare has been used for a lot of sites offering some nice features like posting jobs, meetings, … May 2007 OpenWetWare got a grant to transform the platform into a selfsustaining community independent of its current base at M.I.T. and also to support creation of a generic version of OpenWetWare.


But some fears remain, the article mentions an example of someone using OpenWetWare. At first the person kept all her post private afraid someone would trash published pages. But OpenWetWare has some built-in safeguards, every user has to be registered and established that they belong to a legitimate research organization. Even if you get trashed the system is able to perform a rollback.

Getting scooped

Another concern is getting scooped and losing the credit. This fear often keeps scientists from even discussing their unpublished work too freely, much less posting it on the Internet. As opposed to what people think the Web offers better protection than traditional journals. Every publication on a wiki gets a time stamp that proves you were the first. The article even suggest that this fear factor might drive open science: in journals your work won’t appear for another 6 or 9 months, on the web it is publish right away. Another benefit of a time stamp on every post is being able to track the contributions of every person.

Unsolved problems

Some problems might hold someone from publishing online, like the concern of the privacy of persons that were part of a research test. Also a journal might insist on copyrighting test and visuals, so pre-publishing online won’t be allowed. It still isn’t clear if a patent office will accept a wiki posting as proof of priority.

The more the better

The article also mentions a case in which a lot of people participated in a research, because of this search engines could index what they were doing and got discovered by people offering help from another part of the world.


Scientist have been slow to adopt blogging. The whole point of blogging is getting ideas out there quickly, even at the risk of being wrong or incomplete. For a scientist this is a tough jump to make, because in the process of publishing a paper words are chosen carefully, … A benefit of blogging is that it is a good medium for brainstorming and discussion. Yet again some young scientists who are struggling to get tenure this might look dangerous because making a wrong impression could have some consequences. Out of fear pseudonyms are often used .

Credit problem

Some people might not participate on blogs because time spent with the online community is time not spent on cranking out that next publication. Scientist don’t blog because they get no credit, this credit problem is one of the biggest barriers tom many aspect of Science 2.0. The article explains that nobody believes that a scientist’s only contribution is from the papers he or she publishes, a good scientist also gives talks at conferences, shares ideas, takes a leadership role in the community, … Publication where the only thing one could measure, this has changed with a lot of this information going online and thus being able to measure it.

The payoff of collaboration

Acceptance of the measures requires a big change in academic culture.  The current technologies’ potential should be able to move researchers away from an obsessive focus on priority and publication. We should focus on openness and community instead these were the hallmarks of science. Great efforts are being made like Nature Network, Connotea, ..


2 Responses to “Scientific American on Science 2.0”

  1. Jean-Claude Bradley Says:

    nice summary!

  2. Shon Ingwell Says:

    Ultimately, an issue that I am fervent about. I have looked for information of this topic for the last several hours. Your site is greatly treasured.

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