LinkedIn, Facebook, ORCID, Twitter, Instagram, Klout, Mendeley, ResearchGate.
I’m signed up for all of these things. Some are useful, some can be annoying, some I just ignore.
Some vague time ago, a friend in my department mentioned that I should sign up for ResearchGate. I said something like, “It’s just another one of those social networks, yadda yadda so what.” But I signed up anyway*.
At the time I signed up, I halfheartedly connected some of my papers, and since then I’ve ignored it. Jump to last week, when one of their emails was creative enough to find its way through my spam filter:
I was like, huh? I chose to click over to my profile on ResearchGate.
It mentioned that I’ve had 1,127 paper downloads. (And most of my papers weren’t even on the site. That is no longer true.)
Having a thousand cumulative downloads of your papers isn’t the biggest thing in the world — this post will be seen far more widely than all those downloads. But for downloads of academic research papers in peer-reviewed journals, this isn’t chump change. And those downloads are coming from specialists who are working on the same stuff that I’m working on — these are my close colleagues!
The data indicate that a bunch of scientists are now going to ResearchGate to get copies of papers. These downloads are coming from the US, Brazil, China, and lots of other places.
Up until this last week, I’ve always thought: If anybody wants my paper, they’re so easy to access! They’re on my website. And Google Scholar has found them on my website.
But, still, about every few months, I get an email reprint request for a copy of a paper that is readily available from my site. So, some people obviously aren’t as savvy as I imagined, or find it’s easier to email me than to look to see if they are found on the interwebs. But really, it’s more complicated than that.
It was pointed out to me (on twitter) that ResearchGate can be important for scholars in China which has an authoritarian government that cuts off access to not just Facebook, but also Google**.
Since I had ignored my page for a long, long time, I dealt with many “requests” for papers. Some papers were listed as authored by me, but weren’t yet uploaded for people to download. I could send them “privately” or upload them for everybody.
So, this offers a way to
deal with circumvent paywalls . Of course, it’d be great if all papers were just open access and we didn’t have to fuss with paywalls at all. But the fact remains that a lot of great papers are still getting published in society journals and other venues that aren’t open access. While we’re working on making science available to everybody***, ResearchGate is a workaround until the lawyers hound them into nonexistence, as it looks like a way to jailbreak papers to be available to everybody. I have no idea if the for-profit publishers that hold copyright on some papers have turned their eyes on ResearchGate.
There is an annoying aspect of the ‘social network’ part of ResearchGate. They have a hokey way to measure your “RG score” and “impact points.” At least, I’m guessing it’s hokey. I have no idea what those numbers are. I suppose one way to get some senior scientists on board is to let them show their big numbers. Not that I have any idea what the units are. And you can “endorse” people in that useless way like happens on LinkedIn.
When I mentioned my discovery that ResearchGate is not entirely useless for everybody, this was the first response:
So, for those of you who have been using it, what can you tell us? Please share! I’m a newbie and don’t know what to say, any tips and recommendations would be great.
*(I’m not an early adopter of this kind of stuff, but I’m an early-sign-up-and-forgetter. I heard an NPR story about Twitter in 2007, so I decided to park an account name just in case it turned into something. “Ant” and “ants” were already gone but “hormiga” was available. I didn’t really start using it until 2013.)
** By the way, having a Google Scholar profile is a good idea, if you haven’t made one yet. (Here’s mine, for what it’s worth, if you’re curious about finding my papers and my h-score.) A couple years ago, Joan Strassmann had a post explaining why you should claim your Google scholar profile.
*** I am an advocate for the publication of papers as open access, and am also an advocate for society journals (e.g., Ecology, Biotropica, Oikos, American Naturalist), which are not uniformly open access but have arrangements with publishers so that the journal supports the activities of the academic society. The publishing environment is evolving rapidly enough that it’s not possible to predict what things will look like in a decade, and keeping an open mind is useful to me.
Just as a disclaimer, I’m not getting paid by anybody to write this. Though feel free to send me a paypal deposit.