How to do scientific research without even trying (much)


Ars Technica: “To some extent, scientific research requires expensive or specialized equipment—some work just requires a particle accelerator or a virus containment facility. But plenty of other research has very simple requirements: a decent camera, a bit of patience, or being in the right place at the right time. Since that sort of work is open to anyone, getting the public involved can be a huge win for scientists, who can then obtain much more information than they could have gathered on their own.
A group of Spanish researchers has now written an article that is a mixture of praise for this sort of citizen science, a resource list for people hoping to get involved, and a how-to guide for anyone inspired to join in. The researchers focus on their own area of interest—insects, specifically the hemiptera or “true bugs”—but a lot of what they say applies to other areas of research.

The paper also lists a variety of regional-specific sites that focus on insect identification and tracking, such as ones for the UK, Belgium, and Slovenia. But a dedicated system isn’t required for this sort of resource. In the researchers’ home base on the Iberian Peninsula, insects are tracked via a Flickr group. (If you’re interested in insect research and based in the US, you can also find dozens of projects at the SciStarter site.) We’ve uploaded some of the most amazing images into a gallery that accompanies this article.
ZooKeys, 2013. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.319.4342

ResearchGate Tackles Social Networking for Scientists


Screen-Shot-2013-06-04-at-11.19.01-AM-610x398Meredith Salisbury from Techonomy: “Social networking for scientists has been tried before, but not until recently have we seen investors placing big bets in this area. Earlier this year, the academic networking site Mendeley was acquired by scientific publisher Elsevier for somewhere in the ballpark of $70 million. And today brings a new data point: Berlin-based ResearchGate, a site designed to facilitate collaborations and data sharing among scientists around the world, has raised $35 million in a series C round from investors including Bill Gates….While social networking has upended how business happens in other industries, the centuries-old traditions of the scientific field have largely blocked this kind of change. Sure, scientists sign up for Facebook and LinkedIn like anybody else. But use a social networking tool to facilitate research, find partners, and share data that hasn’t yet been published? That’s been a tough sell in the hyper-competitive, highly specialized scientific community….But ResearchGate’s Madisch believes he is making inroads—and that his latest round of funding, along with its big-name investors, is proof of that. The site boasts 2.8 million users, and features a number of tools and capabilities designed to lure scientists. Madisch knows that scientists are unlikely to share data that could be included in a valuable peer-reviewed publication, so instead he encourages users to share data from failed experiments that will never be submitted for publication anyway. There’s a lot less possessiveness around that data, and Madisch contends that failures are just as important as successes in helping people understand what works under certain circumstances.Another widget calculates a scientist’s reputation score based on interactions within ResearchGate; this number offers an alternative way to look at any scientist’s impact within the field beyond the current gold standard, which simply associates a person’s value with the reputation of the journals he or she gets published in.
What’s most important to Madisch, though, is the site’s ability to connect scientists around the world and allow better research to happen faster. He cites the example of a young child who died from an unknown cause in Nigeria; a local doctor sent samples to a scientist in Italy he found on ResearchGate, and together they identified a new pathogen responsible for the child’s death. Further analysis was conducted by a Dutch researcher, also found through the networking site.
For Madisch, this anecdote embodies the ResearchGate mentality: The more you collaborate, the more successful you’ll be.”