Antonio Casilli has an interesting post on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog about social media and research in sociology.
He advocates that the use of social media, both as an instrument of collaboration and outreach and as a source of empirical data, can be useful for “building support for our intellectual work”. He debates whether using social media is, for scholars, an instrument or an “extreme sports”, which takes time from other occupations, which are really useful for career advancement, especially for untenured researchers. His opinion is that, in a system in which intellectual and academic work is getting more precarious and less socially acknowledged, the use of social media could be a way to promoting long term impact, opening the research to wider audiences and contributing to a new connection between academe and society.
He suggests considering the use of social media as a “social impact investment” for our common future as researchers, “whose outcome will not be academic prosperity via increased revenues from graduate student fees, but a broader social support for us and for our intellectual worth as a research field and as a profession”.
Indeed, Nature has just published the results of a survey about the use of social media by scholars. Only 20% of scholars declare they don’t use social media professionally, although some use them occasionally – e.g., when contacted. Yet, the growth of occasions for collaboration and debate is evident.
There is a dark side, of course. For instance some scholars critique how ResearchGate builds fake profiles and send emails in order to invite colleagues to join the network. You may happen to be on ResearchGate without knowing and willing to. But ResearchGate is a private company, which aim is profit: we shouldn’t expect any more.
Well, I guess this is a point I have already debated here and there. There is a major transformation ongoing for sciences in general and social sciences – call it Open Science, call it Science 2.0, call it how you prefer. The transformation came from bottom-up, through a change in behaviours of communities of scholars. Then, when these changes grew up to the point to challenge some interests (especially those of publishers), transformation started to be institutionalised, both by private stakeholders and universities, resulting into a maze of contradictory trends.
The one point, it is my opinion, is that it is the time for the public sector to take control of these trends, in order to re-asseverate the primacy of public interest in research (especially public funded one).
PS.: remember the EU consultation on Science 2.0, open until the end of the month.