Friday, October 21, 2011

Facebook: The Emerging Forum For Academic Peer Review

Facebook is emerging as more than just a social network where people chat about little things in their life, or keep up with their friends and family, it is becoming a place where priceless academic discussions are taking place - the modern equivalent of old scientific clubs where scientists and experts discuss relavant issues.

Facebook groups are the place where special interest groups can form and attract followers with the same interests.  Even those who oppose the aim of the group can enter and keep track on what the members are saying and thinking.

As of February 2010, Facebook has indexed over 620 million groups.  These groups include almost every imaginable subject.  For our areas of interest in technology, transhumanism, regenerative medicine, futurism, there are several pages.  Indeed if you count the personal pages of researchers in this area, then are even more.

Before Facebook, there was email and perhaps some AOL chat rooms which could have been dedicated to this purpose of discussion.  These two methods had problems.  First, email was very difficult to share with more than one person where all could see everyone else's comments.  Chat rooms could be shared but were very difficult to manage without people entering the rooms to disturb the commentators just to be mischievous.   Also there was no way to keep a room open once the last member had left it.  There was no way for people to post pictures, videos to share.  There was no way this could be done at any time of day.

There is no doubt that the old methods are slowly coming to an end.  In an article published in the The Chronicle of Higher Education in February of 2011n written by Jennifer Howard titled Social Media Lure Academics Frustrated by Traditional Publishing, she states,
Social media have become serious academic tools for many scholars, who use them for collaborative writing, conferencing, sharing images, and other research-related activities. So says a study just posted online called "Social Media and Research Workflow." Among its findings: Social scientists are now more likely to use social-media tools in their research than are their counterparts in the biological sciences. And researchers prefer popular applications like Twitter to those made for academic users.1
In the cited work Social Media and Research Workflow, written by the CIBER group, there is a very extensive study of what is transforming scholarly academic discussion and studies.  The results of a survey conducted by this group revealed startling information.
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The study also listed academics using social media by age group.
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The use of this is not just confined to North America or western countries, it is worldwide.
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Why are academic researchers using these social media?  The study answered this question.
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The study also covered the perceived barriers to academic use of social media.
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The CIBER study saw the impact this trend towards social media effects on academic publishers.
Long-established formats such as the journal, conference proceedings and edited books are still king. What is different, though, is that active social media users are far more likely to use the internet as a complementary activity, disseminating their findings through email lists and web groups, personal web pages, wikis, blogs, social networks and Twitter. This is unsurprising, but the rapid rise of personal dissemination brings with it some big implications for publishers (especially) and librarians.
CIBER explained what the message to traditional academic publishers is:
...researchers want to be able to read content on any pltaform without hindrance, especially more senior researchers.  In the next place, they want publishers to make more progress linking journal articles with the data that underpins their argument.
If this is not enough to show the change that is coming, the message to librarians is even more dramatic.
Way at the top of the wish list would be the ability to search across all local licensed e-content using a simple search tool like Google.
Although this study is very convincing as to the trend of things in academic research, it is not what got us thinking on this subject.  It is what we saw on certain groups of Facebook that did that.  We discovered a veritable universe of information in these groups.  For instance, in the area of AI (artificial intelligence) there are groups which have sponsored amazingly interesting discussions.  These discussions happen at a much faster rate than in traditional academic journals.  Books are cited, even recent not yet published research is cited.  We shall keep the anonymity of the groups and people for the sake of their own privacy.  If these quotes seem familiar to you, then you are in the group and have the right to access this information.  We will cite some short examples to prove our point.  In one room, there is a discussion of a talk given by Dr. Christof Koch at the Singularity Summit 2011 just recently,
At the Singularity Summit this past weekend, Dr. Koch gave what was arguably the most interesting talk. It was about a measure for consciousness based on "integrated information". This measure has been used to calculate the "Phi value" for neural systems. Has anyone thought of using this measure to calculate Phi for an AGI system? My guess is anyone having a system of many similar, interconnected elements (like a stateful neural network perhaps) could adapt this measure with relative ease. Here are some links that explain the calculation as well as some experiments. One might note that Phi has some interesting conceptual similarities to measures that the IDSIA folks have come up with.
This quote is typical of all the discussions we speak of, articles are cited and the points being made are very intellectually demanding.  After this comment was posted a lengthy discussion ensued such as,
Fully synergetic networks are computationally expensive. Sparsely connected networks are more efficient and produce similar results.
Another commentator writes,
I don't think I'll bother until others have done this for their connectionist systems. We have our own measures of success and in general prefer to use measures closer to the utility of the system such as precision and recall numbers in specific applications.
We could produce many more examples, even more lengthy, more detailed more scholarly than these.  This convinces us that Facebook and perhaps Google Plust to a lesser extent is transforming the way that people, academicians discuss ideas.  We have no doubt that this is only the beginning of this trend.  the critical question is that Facebook will own these discussions as much as the participants will.  This will at some point in the future, provide a bonanza of information, social history and scientific opinion.  Publishers and peer reviewed journals will have to adjust to these new realities. For them, it will be a brave new world.  For all of us, it will be an exciting development which will propel research into a "fast lane."  Hang on to your hats.

  1. Howard, J. (2011). Social media lure academics frustrated by traditional publishing. The Chronicle of Higher Education, (00095982), n/a-n/a.
  2. CIBER, (2010). Social Media and Research Workflow.  University College London, Emerald Group, LTD.


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