Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog

Feb 4, 2011 · Leave a Reply

Social Media and the Speed of Science

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Access to scientific literature has had its ups and downs. As a student during the Cold War, I recall the difficulty some Europeans had in obtaining the latest journals, often waiting months -- or opting to receive the literature through "alternative channels." Some findings were also "shielded" from Western eyes by limited circulation or simply a lack of translation or print runs. How the world has changed. Social media and the Internet now allows for readers from Beijing to Rochester to see the same articles simultaneously when someone in London pushes a button. In fact, thanks to blogs and Twitter, they can provide almost immediate feedback on findings, bringing another facet to peer review -- moderated or not.

There are positives and negatives to all this, as explored by Apoorva Mandavilli in the January 20th issue of Nature. Trial by Twitter discusses how specialists in a given discipline can spot and question methodology that may limit or skew results of a study -- and prompt a faster "self-correction" of the literature, keeping people on track and saving time or effort. The down side is when anonymous bloggers take pot shots at an article (rightly or wrongly) without allowing time or providing reasonable venue for author response. Science -- which is having a hard enough time these days -- deserves rational and civil discussion and people should identify themselves in commenting or be disregarded. That said, the responsible exchange of ideas and collegial conversations via the social media can help open windows on the scientific process as well as speed awareness, if not discovery itself.

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