ResearchGate The Knowledge of Many

ResearchGate founder Ijad Madisch (right) and his staff want to improve networking between researchers;
ResearchGate founder Ijad Madisch (right) and his staff want to improve networking between researchers; | Photo (detail): © ResearchGate

The social network ResearchGate is changing the way researchers share knowledge. They can find each other more easily, expand their knowledge – and have even uncovered a case of fraud.

In the media, the social network ResearchGate is often dubbed “Facebook for researchers”. Its founder, the virologist Ijad Madisch, likes to talk about fundamentally changing the world of research, as the platform does a lot more than simply interlinking people within a digital network. “Our vision has remained the same ever since we began”, says Madisch. “ResearchGate aims to give researchers a forum in which to collaborate, share research results and make a name for themselves with a view to driving forward progress in science.” Launched in 2008, ResearchGate encourages researchers to share their thoughts and findings with one another. The network’s objective is “open science” – science that is more effective for being transparent and always reproducible. ResearchGate members can ask questions, raise problems and criticism, engage in debate and easily find partners for international and interdisciplinary cooperation. This makes the network particularly interesting for young researchers.

New links

Dragan Djordjevic is one of those who found cooperation and new opportunities on ResearchGate and whose story can be read on the website: a Serbian technical designer and traffic engineer with a PhD, he used the platform to publish the research he had carried out for his doctoral thesis, which explored ways of improving public rail transport for the increasingly mobile society of his home country. The problem he highlighted was that older and disabled citizens – who account for nearly a quarter of the Serbian population – find it difficult to access the public transport system. There is a lack of lifts and signposting in railway stations, while trains are not equipped for old and disabled people.

The challenge of how to create and design an infrastructure that is suitable for an ageing population is one faced by numerous countries. There has not been much research into this to date, says Djordjevic. He therefore browsed through the six million ResearchGate users worldwide, hunting for someone who was working on the same problems – and found just the person in India. Umesh Rai from the Centre for Electronic Design and Technology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore was interested in precisely this subject. Following an inspiring exchange, he asked his Serbian colleague to write a chapter on this in his latest publication.

Discussion of errors and advances

The productive link that was forged between the Serb and the Indian thanks to ResearchGate is just one of thousands of tales of exchange and cooperation that are generated by the platform every day. Any researcher with a research institution e-mail address can apply to ResearchGate to draw attention to their work or to search for inspiration and research partners. ResearchGate ensures that they find one another on the basis of their profiles and across all disciplinary boundaries. Roughly two million publications per month are currently being uploaded by researchers in the network. As soon as a paper is available online, any members who are interested in it can discuss the publication and any questions, errors or advances resulting from it.

Greater transparency

The platform offers what are known as “open reviews”, which one day may even replace the conventional practice of peer reviews, which involve colleagues reviewing articles prior to their publication in an academic journal. As Ijad Madisch explains, it is far more effective, not to mention more transparent, if qualified colleagues around the world submit their critical appraisals and comments after publication. To this end, the platform introduced a new format in 2015, which it hopes will replace the PDF in the longer term: the ResearchGate Format, or RGF for short. A scientific publication in RGF is not hermetically sealed – theoretically, all six million users can add visible comments, criticisms and discussions of the content.

The most prominent example of this new review approach was a Japanese study which claimed in 2014 to have produced stem cells. The ResearchGate scientific community had attempted to reproduce the process, but to no avail. Nature magazine was forced to withdraw the article when the fraudulent claim was revealed – not least as a result of the debate about the study that had been triggered on ResearchGate by Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, a stem cell researcher in Hong Kong.