When the Noise is the Signal: Social Media as Scholarly Communication
My name is Margaret Smith, I’m the physical sciences librarian at NYU. Though I’m a librarian now, my background is in the sciences (bachelor’s in physics and master’s in evolutionary biology). I’m also kind of a social media and open access fiend. I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of social media in science communication, versus where we are now and show some examples how social media is reimagining the process of scholarly communications, and basically creating new formats for communication. I’m also going to discuss what problems remain, and what still needs to be addressed before social media becomes a driving force, and how libraries and librarians can help this along.
Old kind of pixelation/noiseScholarly communications in the sciences have historically comprised books, journals, also some grey literature (preprints, conference proceedings, protocols), which are then indexed and/or abstracted by professional organizations.These kinds of “official/formal” documentation in the sciences have been social in some interesting ways:In 1960, Eugene Garfield’s “Institute for Scientific Information” created the first citation index for scholarly works. This Science Citation Index would later be described as “Networks of Scientific Papers”. (effectively,this was a way to organize the literature socially, according to who was citing whom), In 1991, Paul Ginsparg (now at Cornell) created arXiv (began as a listserv where physics researchers could exchange e-prints) then became open access webbased physics database. Historically, though, high energy physics researchers were actually physically mailing hundreds of copies of their articles to their peers. Since 1951, preprints had been archived at CERN, and since 1974 had been included in SPIRES (grey literature catalog) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC).
Increased speed of search/discovery to review/publishing and speed of indexing/aggregationCosts of communication and distribution are less (because not printed on paper, doesn’t require shipping) leads to open access publishing, but it’s more than thatSocial media can (in theory, at least) re-imagine scholarly communications and also WHAT IS COMMUNICATED (not just books and articles anymore)Research that we pay for with our tax dollars can be available to us, instant peer review, guard against fraud, knowledge is more open, “leveling of the playing field” so that all the teams can win
This is more than “open access publishing”. Entire new models of science (citizen journalist) and new accessibility/shareability of data and grey literature
Social media has much to offer scholarly communications in the sciences (potentially replacing journals/books in the sciences), but there are a few things that will need to be addressed in order for that to happen.
There is a real costof hosting/archiving open access and cost of social media (and we’ll need funding models so that libraries can pay for peer-review/distribution?), I mentioned arXiv before, started in 1991 freely accessible, but it costs a lot and Cornell is asking for helpThere is also a potential loss of revenue from patents (openness has been faster in sciences with less patents)
Open Science is destabilizing, and causes totally realistic fear: not only is market economy threatened (patents and publishers) by openness, so is reputation economy (promotion and tenure). There is also fear of the unknown (not knowing what tools are available, or what to do, what the conventions are).To this end, librarians can talk to faculty about Open Science, and about the tools themselves. Teach classes on social media (and when can you link to a PDF of your published article and why).
Echo chamber effect: agreement can seem amplified (creates exclusivity, less openness)Also, issues of power: NY Times “Room for Debate” series, on the topic of gender and Wikipedia editing, Jessamyn West says:“Crowdsourcing is not democratic. Crowds are still made of people, and some voices are more tacitly and overtly accepted than others. “Just adding a social media to something doesn’t solve all the problems inherent to being social.
Such radically increased distribution of content leads to multiplicity of localized/informal systems of organization, harder to collect aggregate in a useful way (to reduce duplication of effort and improve search), harder to search, harder to find stewardship.Everything is everywhere!Also, the need for traffic/eyeballs leads to broad appeals, which sort of makes this worse (we already have an official data problem, and this isn’t helping matters (focus more on discipline-specific efforts like Wormbank).Librarians need to either figure out how to be stewards, or ensure that workflows exist to aggregate data in an appropriate way (in whatever databases it should go into). Social media can be fragile (del.icio.us for example, friendfeed being bought out). If we want to treat social media as a serious kind of scholarly communication then we need to invest in itsorganization/preservation/archiving.