Scientists, the web is becoming your oyster

The digital tools and services remaking media, commerce,  education, and most other parts of our lives, are finally starting to stream into science.

Over the past few months, online marketplaces and communities for scientific researchers have gained more attention (and money). And on Friday, Mozilla became the latest to offer up a web service for scientists, with the launch of its Science Lab, a project meant to encourage worldwide conversations among researchers on how the web could improve the way scientists work.

“Scientists created the web — but the open web still hasn’t transformed scientific practice to the same extent we’ve seen in other areas like media, education and business,” according to a Mozilla blog post. “For all of the incredible discoveries of the last century, science is still largely rooted in the “analog” age. Credit systems in science are still largely based around “papers,” for example, and as a result researchers are often discouraged from sharing, learning, reusing, and adopting the type of open and collaborative learning that the web makes possible.”

Led by Kaitlin Thaney, an open science advocate who helped create and manage the science program at Creative Commons, Mozilla’s Science Lab plans to facilitate an online conversation to figure out how web technology could be used to make scientific research more efficient, collaborative and fast.

Initial plans include bringing digital skills training to academia, through boot camps and online resources, so that researchers better understand available tools and highlighting other web services trying to shape the future of science.

Mozilla’s Science Lab dovetails with other recent efforts to update the practice of scientific research with technology and promote what some call “science as a service.” As my colleague David Meyer reported, Berlin-based ResearchGate, which earlier this month said it raised a $35-million Series C round from Bill Gates and others, built a social network of 2.7 million researchers. Its goal is to give researchers a platform for connecting and collaborating. In April, Science Exchange, an online marketplace where scientists can list and discover experimental services from institutions around the world, said it had raised $3 million in a round led by Union Square Ventures.  Other interesting scientific researcher-focused web startups and services include Digital Science, figshare and Software Carpentry, which plans to work with Science Lab to train researchers.

Even though more valuable digital tools are emerging for scientists, Thaney said there’s still work to be done in raising awareness, changing incentive structures and making sure researchers have the right technical skills.

“There are so many different stakeholders and different people trying to push this rock up the hill in terms of modernizing the way we do science,” she said. “They’re doing incredible work but there are still gaps in terms of coordination and trying to get in front of the people doing research.”