Social networks for scientists - what works, and what doesn't? A workshop proposal

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UNESCO has been central to the establishment, in 2004, of the World Association of Young Scientists (WAYS) that hosts this blog. Yet their ideas and those of us scientists (used here in the broader sense that includes all academic fields) as to how the network should be structured and operated were not always aligned. On the other hand, the common goals led to a number of common activities, most notably a series of sessions at the biannual World Science Forum.

In a meeting last week, the topic of social networks was discussed anew, and we noticed that our perspectives had come closer recently. For instance, they showed an avid interest in what science would look like if it were invented today and how to foster open approaches to science. These issues can hardly be discussed without reference to online platforms for scientists and their design features: What factors affect their use by scientists, what is working and what is not, and how does all this depend on the research focus of an individual, on their computer literacy, or on funding practices of the country in which they are based?

From there, the idea of holding a workshop on the topic was not all too far, and it was clear that it would be most fruitful if representatives of online platforms with different structures, user communities and technical bases would be joining in, either in person or remotely. We would also like to keep the meeting at a scale suitable for focused discussion.

The workshop will have to go through some formal proposal process, and in order to help plan this, we invite interested parties to identify themselves in the comments, along with three suggestions of which other people or platforms should be invited to participate, along with a brief rationale, which may well be informal. Example: Someone from Foldit should be invited, since they leverage the creative potential of computer games to solve real scientific problems. A participant in the Polymath projects would be good to highlight how a discipline still dominated by single authorship of scholarly works can embrace large-scale online collaboration, and someone keeping their research notebooks publicly online (e.g. at OpenWetWare) could provide insights into the justification of wide-spread preconceptions about schemes of open collaboration, especially data sharing.

From these suggestions, we will compile a list of suggested participants that we will submit to UNESCO, along with a two-page outline of the workshop concept, which we will start drafting in public in the next few days. Everyone is invited to join in the write-up.

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