Using community-based tools in science

There is a very interesting overview of the use of peer-based tools in scientific research, in the always excellent Communities Dominate Brands blog, written by Thomas Sharpton.

He introduces the topic as follows:

An online revolution is changing the way we think about obtaining information. By facilitating interaction between users in an online community, new tools harness the collective wisdom of their participants to identify and critically review information. Community-based tools have the potential to revolutionize access to scientific information but, like all tools, are not without their limitations. First, the information obtained by community tools is subject to the biases of the users generating the information. As a result, we must continue to critically evaluate the information received from these tools. Fortunately, community members often, through civil discourse or amendments, provide checks on bad or incorrect information coming from other members, minimizing these types of problems. Second, these tools are not designed to replace conventional search engines. We should be clear that search engines provide a great utility to the scientific community and certainly have their place in research, especially when probing a new subject for ideas.”

Several examples are described in the article, but his own project stands out, because it is essentially based on enabling the identificaton of knowledgeable peers:

We have developed SIPHS , a tool that leverages an online community in a different fashion: rather than searching for online documents, users search for community members with a particular knowledge set. We established SIPHS in response to a shared frustration. The Internet was designed to put people in touch, but it is quite difficult to identify individuals that possess very specific, often highly technical knowledge.

Members of SIPHS can search for peer-generated information, ask questions of other members, and provide peer support.”

There is a lot more in the original article, which has inspired us to create a new section on Science at the P2P Foundation. We are looking for volunteers to maintain the currency of that new section.

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