In 2007, ResearchGate cofounder and CEO Ijad Madisch was hard at work in a lab when he became stuck on a problem. Frustrated, he started looking for people working next to him and in nearby labs who could help. But it was an impossible search. It occurred to him that there should be a sort of social network for scientists.
The result was ResearchGate, a site cofounded by Madisch where scientists can share publications, ask for input on research questions and collaborate with other scientists across many different disciplines. As of today, it is five years old and backed by Bill Gates. It is used by 3 million scientists and 5,000 more sign up each day. By 2016, Madisch believes every scientist in the world could be a member.
I asked Madisch a few questions about his reasons for creating the site, how scientists are using it and what may be in store in the future.
Why did you found ResearchGate?
I noticed that science is very inefficient. If you experiment and you fail in the experiment, you don’t share this information with other scientists. If you need a person with a specific set of skills, how do you find this person in the huge world of science?
Can you give an example of a connection made on ResearchGate?
A Nigerian researcher got contacted by an Italian professor who is doing research with immunocompromised patients. Usually this Italian professor travels to Africa in order to collect these samples on his own, but because of the financial crisis the university did not have that much money and he had to be more efficient. He started asking questions on ResearchGate and this guy said “I have many samples. I can send them to you.” Then a young child died in the hospital in Nigeria and it was strange because he didn’t know why this child died. He sent a sample to the Italian professor and they found a new type of yeast which only infects plants. They did not know until then that it now infects also human beings. Now they’re starting to publish it.
Why do scientists need a place to connect?
You see that of course the U.S., the western E.U. and Israel as well are collaborating very strongly. If you look at Africa or South America, that’s not happening very much. You look at the graph of this over time and it’s changing. That will happen more and more. Problems are getting more global. We have to get in touch with people from other countries and continents to solve these global problems.
What is the importance of sharing research?
When you publish an article, it’s 5 percent of the work you have done. The other 95 percent is the negative results. Because of this, we have research redundancy because we don’t share the negative results and the raw data sets. Sharing is one thing, but it’s also sharing it in a social environment. If we know who is doing what, we can be much more efficient. Open source has been very successful in how you can combine competition plus being open. I always call it “open science.” We have to move to a world where this competition is still needed, but everyone understands the more open I am, the more successful I will be.
What are the obstacles to “social science?”
If you look at the history of science, it was dangerous to go out with your results. It shaped scientists over a long period of time, which is a little bit in our genes now. The publishers of course are still interested in the establishment. They’re making a lot of money with the system how it is now and of course they don’t want to change it. This whole circle of, “OK, I have to publish in a high ranked journal in order to get funding again,” this is something we have to break.