A social network may take over the role traditionally reserved for peer-reviewed journals of allowing researchers to easily share their work — but first it had to undergo a profile makeover.
Since its launch in 2008, Academic.edu, the Facebook of academia, has connected scientists and professors with similar research interests. But with its new profile, the network has dipped into a job typically reserved for peer-reviewed journals.
The redesign allows users to prominently display on their profile published papers, drafts and talks, as well as track analytical information about the views and followers their profile attracts. Such easy sharing effectively circumvents the traditional peer review process that research usually goes through before publication, replacing it instead with a kind of crowd source review. Founder and CEO of Academic.edu Richard Price wrote in a post that this system would push the best research to the top, making it similar to the method that Google uses to order its results.
It would also avoid some of the pitfalls of peer review, most notably the time aspect. It can take a year or more for the peer review board to finish their work, significantly delaying the paper’s publication. With Academic.edu, the papers are available instantly for the scientific community’s — and the public’s — perusal. The scientific process is democratized; an acceptance letter from a journal no longer has to stand between a researcher and the dissemination of the results.
However, critics argue that such a gatekeeper is necessary to prevent slipshod science from entering the dialogue. The network’s system of peer review is dependant on the quality of the researchers who participate in it. If it is to work as a credible method of eliminating illegitimate research, then the academics who determine the research’s standing, through citing it in their own research or sharing it through social media, should be very experienced. But of the almost two million users, few are above the postgraduate level, making Academic.edu not very different from Facebook in its user makeup.
Still, as more academics join (4,000 do every day), the power of Academic.edu to facilitate dialogue among researchers and to make groundbreaking studies widely and immediately available could dramatically change how the scientific community interacts with the laypeople.