The crisis of relevance, that is what Academia are having trouble with nowadays. Many Americans are ignoring the conclusions of scientists on a variety of issues including climate change and natural selection. Some state governments are cutting funding for higher education; the federal government is threatening to cut funding for research. Resentful students face ever-increasing costs for tuition. These challenges between the Web and scientists are becoming ever more visible.
The web is fundamentally changing the channels through which science is communicated. These are some of the common questions: who can create it, who can access it and ultimately what it is. Through web Society now has instant access to more news and information than ever before; knowledge is being democratized. And as a result, the role of the scientist in society is blurry.
One outcome of the web wider usage, particularly as we entered the 2000s, was easier access to scientific information from a wider variety of sources. This is causing the academy and scientists to be displaced. Though competing and questionable scientific findings are not entirely new, but the web is making it possible for the general public to mine the web for scientific information on a completely different scale. People are either drawing their own conclusions or rely on other’s interpretations about what the information says.
There is now a proliferation of alternative science (of varying quality) through media outlets and pseudo-scientific journals that leave many within academia discouraged. The academy has, therefore, entered its own period of “reformation” with its authority in flux. This reformation is in the form of rising tuition, perceptions of a liberal bias, charges that scientific research cannot be reproduced and thus verified, and questions of the social value of much academic research. So this is causing academics to question the validity and credibility of other sources of information as well as dismissing misinformed people.
Many researchers clearly show that scientists do not see it as their responsibility to actually educate people on how to use and interpret the information on the web. Surveys show that only 24 percent, for example, admits to writing blogs and nearly 40 percent vow never to use Twitter or Facebook for academic purposes. This is causing a great distance between the public and the scholars who as some believe think as themselves as superior and separate. This approach is counterproductive and just makes the situation worse in terms of the trust between the two. It would have been a better option if a scientist took the time to address this issue and teach public how they can use this web-based info to their benefits without radical misinterpretation.
These are some suggestions mentioned by Andrew Huffman, Professor at the University of Michigan.
“In the face of the changes wrought by the web, the academy must evolve in multiple ways. For example, scientific research in the 21st century should find ways to break down the artificially narrow disciplinary silos that have come to dominate academic life and link multiple disciplines in research that reflects the complexity of real-world issues.
Next, it must move toward transdisciplinary research to recognize the knowledge that emerges from interacting with communities outside the academy and resides in places other than academic journals, including the web. Local communities, for example, can be useful partners in urban research studies and business, and nonprofits can have much to offer in research projects that study the market.
Further, colleges and universities must accelerate teaching of how to become discerning consumers of online content, being able to distinguish rigorous and objective research from content that may have a political agenda and bias, or represents shoddy or unreliable methodology, data, and review.
Next, scientists will be expected to communicate more effectively with consumers of scientific knowledge to explain not only what its research shows, but also how it arrived at its conclusions and the value those conclusions bring to society. This task will involve a new set of skills in communication, storytelling, narrative and the use of the web that scientists lack today.”
We are witnessing some improvements in this regard. Studies find that some academics use the web to boost their professional presence, post content related to their work, discover related peers, find recommended research articles, test new ideas and participate in discussions on research-related issues. One study even found that social media platforms like Twitter increase exposure for academic research within the academy. But this is all possible through a new form of training and rewards.
The Mayo Clinic and Michigan’s Ross School of Business have gone one step further, adding social media and professional impact, respectively, to their annual review processes. New metrics, like Altmetric and Impact Story, are searching for ways to quantitatively measure such practical impact. And, going to the source, Responsible Research in Business and Management is seeking to promote more top-tier research that addresses problems important to business and society. These changes reflect the growing interests of a new cadre of doctoral students and junior faculty who want to have a more real-world impact with their work.
It is all about connecting the academy to the society. This is the fulfillment of the social contract that many believe the scientific community has always been obligated to honor according to Hoffman. Using these strategies we are hoping to reduce the challenges between the Web and Scientists.
Andrew J. Hoffman