Section 2: Disruption in Process:
Ijad Madisch, ResearchGate: Reinventing the Scientific Process
Ijad Madisch, ResearchGate
ResearchGate provides a platform to share and publish scientific research. Other companies in this area include Academia.edu and Mendeley.
Describe the status quo in the industry you’re disrupting and where you see inefficiencies.
We just celebrated the World Wide Web’s 25th birthday. Many people don’t know that it was actually invented for science. However, the status quo in science has remained largely the same since the turn of the last century. Most scientific results still get published in journals. This made a lot of sense at a time when there was no other way for scientists to find out what was going on in a lab 100 miles away. Today, though, the web offers many possibilities for scientists to share and discover knowledge more efficiently.
A major concern is how we treat scientific data. Scientists produce data by the second, but currently only a fraction of it is published. Valuable information, especially about experiments that failed to confirm hypotheses, is lost. If this data does go online, it often lacks context; sometimes, it’s not even clear who published it and what it was meant for. This information is crucial for other researchers to understand, learn from and work with this data.
Sharing feedback on this data is another point of concern. Research is getting increasingly niche and complicated, which means that evaluation and quality control are very difficult. Whether results are published or not is commonly decided by a few experts behind closed doors, largely on the basis of whether results seem plausible. Other factors that have nothing to do with the science might come into play, too.
We believe that feedback shouldn’t stop when research is published, which is mostly the case today. Currently, once results are out there, giving feedback is difficult and slow. If researchers write a letter to the editor, it can take months until it gets published, and valuable time that could go into making new findings is lost. This post-publication quality control, however, is incredibly important. If researchers can trust results to be reproducible, they can build on this knowledge with their own research. Giving feedback on reproducibility of research helps to highlight valuable research and point out flaws. We’ve set out to change this status quo for the better.
Describe how you’re reimagining the industry.
In technology, open source has already proven its merit. Code is made public, and feedback is crowdsourced and shared transparently. As a result, development processes are accelerated and better products are brought to market faster and at less cost. We envision a similar system for science, called “open science”.
We believe all scientific results should be public, just like the code in open source. What’s more, this information should be presented in context. Data should be tied to researchers who created it and have their name on it. Researchers should be able to share findings faster, and they should be able to do it in bits and pieces along the way, without the delay of the publishing process. This allows them to receive feedback from peers and integrate it into the research process immediately.
We also believe that it’s far more efficient to have results reviewed after they’ve been published. This way, other researchers can actually try to reproduce results and share their experience, whether it works or not. This makes science more reliable and transparent.
How is your start-up contributing towards the reimagined state of the industry?
We’re helping scientists to make this vision become reality with everything we do. Over 4 million researchers now use ResearchGate to connect to peers, share and discover research, voice feedback and build reputation. All content is publicly available, but in order to keep discussions among peers fruitful, only researchers can sign up and contribute, using an email address from a white-listed institution or proving their research activity individually.
When signed in, researchers can share all their data, no matter if it confirms a hypothesis or not. This enables them to learn from each other what works and what might not work, or just work differently. It’s a huge leap forward when you don’t have to invent the wheel time and time again.
The number of publications and data sets they share on the network has grown exponentially. In the first 50 months of ResearchGate’s history, 2 million publications were uploaded in total. Now, researchers add 2 million publications to their profiles per month. We created a tool to upload and share raw data at the end of 2012. In the first few months, researchers shared 100 data sets per day; now, they add 700 to their profiles every day.
Once on the network, publications become a starting point for more. Researchers can give and receive feedback on every piece of research. In March, we introduced a new feature, Open Review, where researchers simply answer a few questions about the reproducibility of publications. With this tool, researchers can highlight reproducible research, giving publications the attention they deserve, no matter in which journal they were published. Open Review also helps to make out flaws.
Professor Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, a stem-cell expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, used Open Review and demonstrated that a high-profile study published in Nature earlier this year was unlikely to be reproducible. The authors of this study had presented a very simple method to produce embryo-like stem cells by bathing adult cells in acid, a revelation for regenerative medicine, if it were true. The study came under scrutiny soon after it was published. Kenneth tried to reproduce it following two different protocols released by the co-authors – in the end, to no avail. He shared his results transparently along the way in a live blog on his Open Review, making the process even more transparent.
Why do you think none of the incumbents in your industry are doing what you are doing?
With ResearchGate, we’re changing science at the core, which means confronting the establishment. This is difficult; it takes time and there’s no immediate return on investment. I think this is what’s holding some incumbents back, and it’s caused others to give up.
Describe the value that consumers will draw from the disruption.
Our vision is to help researchers make progress happen faster. The researchers’ benefit is immediate; by collaborating with peers on the network, they find answers to questions faster. They can get feedback that helps them to come to results quicker, thereby enabling them to publish their results faster, build reputation and further their career. This, in turn, helps everyone.
For instance, in the case of Rick Arneil Arancon and his idea for greener energy production, the graduate student from the Philippines developed a catalyst for biofuel made from corncob residues, which turns old cooking oils into eco-friendly biofuel in a cheap and efficient way. He discussed his invention with Rafael Luque, a professor of organic chemistry from Spain, who helped him to publish an article about it. Rick’s idea might never have been shared, if he hadn’t met Rafael.
In another incident, a collaboration between two biologists on ResearchGate shed light on a new pathogen. In Emmanuel Nnadi’s hometown of Jos [Nigeria], a baby girl suddenly died of unknown causes. Emmanuel got back in touch with Orazio Romeo of Italy, whom he had met on the network and collaborated with previously. Together they discovered that a yeast usually found only in plants seemed to have mutated and infected the child.
We have many other stories of collaborations to tell, also in physics, infectious diseases and political science. All of these examples show how ResearchGate helps researchers come to results faster, and how that serves science as well as society.