Web 2.0 - the “second generation” Internet of user-oriented social networks, wikis, blogs, and information-tagging devices - has spawned at least two progeny since Tim O’Reilly coined the term in 2004: Journalism 2.0 and Science 2.0.
Scientific American made conjoined twins out of them last week with its latest experiment in networked journalism: an article about networked science. Last Wednesday, the magazine’s Web site published a 2,700-word story by veteran freelancer Mitch Waldrop titled, “Science 2.0: Great New Tool, or Great Risk?” An introduction explains, however, that the piece is a work in progress, and invites readers to post comments and questions that will be incorporated into a final version, which will be published in the May issue of the magazine.
Science 2.0 is not actually the progeny of Web 2.0-it belongs more appropriately, as Waldrop points out, to the Open Access and Open Data movements in scientific publishing. Its proponents, members of the public and scientists alike, argue that scientific and other scholarly research should be free and permanently accessible to anyone online. The justification is twofold: that taxpayers fund roughly half of the research published in peer-reviewed journals, and that open access will generally improve science because data and ideas will circulate (and germinate) more freely. A number of open-access journals, such as the Public Library of Science (PloS), have sprung up in recent years, in opposition to subscription-based journals like Science and Nature. The National Institutes of Health announced last week, however, that starting in April, scientists it funds must turn in their peer-reviewed papers to NIH to be posted in a free, online archive. Trade groups such as Association of American Publishers have opposed open access, arguing that it could hurt both profitability and the quality of research.
Science 2.0, however, has less to do with the ideological side of the open access movement than it does with the technical side and how information is actually shared (wikis, blogs, online journals, etc.). Of course, many of the criticisms and defenses of Science 2.0 are the same as those for open access in general. As Waldrop notes:
Many scientists remain highly skeptical of such openness-especially in the hyper-competitive biomedical fields, where patents, promotion and tenure can hinge on being the first to publish a new discovery. From that perspective, Science 2.0 seems dangerous: using blogs and social networks for your serious work feels like an open invitation to have your online lab notebooks vandalized-or worse, have your best ideas stolen and published by a rival…
The acceptance of any such measure would require a big change in the culture of academic science. But for Science 2.0 advocates, the real significance of Web technologies is their potential to move researchers away from an obsessive focus on priority and publication, toward the kind of openness and community that were supposed to be the hallmark of science in the first place.
What’s really interesting about Waldrop’s article, however, is that versions of these same criticisms and defenses apply to the Journalism 2.0 experiment he is conducting. As the media adjust to a more dynamic (and fast-paced) platform, some have worried about issues like irrelevant or hostile posting and quality control of information. The technique that Waldrop uses, “networked” reporting, is relatively hassle-free-it asks readers to submit comments and questions in traditional blog style, which may or may not be used in the final, print edition. This is much less risky than using a wiki, for example, which allows readers to actively edit the work in progress-a lesson that the Los Angeles Times learned the hard way in 2005. Waldrop’s piece is at least Scientific American’s third experiment in networked reporting. The results of the first, which involved a story about paleoanthropology and Lucy’s Baby, were published in December 2006. The novelty of the terminology surrounding such endeavors led me to inappropriately refer to the article as “wiki-reporting.”