The Map Is Not The Territory

A blog by Christian Willmes.

Caution with ResearchGate and Academia, they are not Open Science

| categories: open science, science 2.0, research | View Comments

In this post I will share my views on two academic social media platforms ResearchGate and I will explain why I believe they are not a step “in the right direction”, in the sense of supporting Open Science, and why they are potentially dangerous for the aims of the Open Science movement.

At first I want to point out, that these two platforms are not generally bad, they also have their positive aspects. These positive aspects are the facilitation of Web 2.0 technology for the academic context. This kind of technology is also known as Science 2.0. These platforms provide a social network layer into academia and the sciences, that contribute to improve networking among researchers from all over the world.

I also want to point out, that I support the idea of Open Science, and my personal aim is to advocate and implement this open approach and idea for the conduct of research and science. Open Science is more an approach on how to conduct research and science, and not so much a particular application or implementation. It has to do with Open Licensing (Copyright), Open Access, Open Source and a generally open stance to and for the conduct of science.

The concept of Science 2.0 is about the application of Web 2.0 technology to facilitate the conduct of (open) science. It provides technology that allows to collaboratively conduct science and share information using web technology. But the application of Science 2.0 tools and platforms does not automatically result in Open Science. It is possible to apply Science 2.0 technology to collaborate on a research project, that publishes its results in a traditional closed science manner. On the other hand it is also possible to conduct Open Science without the application of Science 2.0 tools, for example writing an old school research article using local proprietary M$ Word and IBM SPSS software, but publishing the results in an Open Access journal.

Now, having the terminology straight, I start with the critique of the two Science 2.0 applications ResearchGate and Academia, and give some suggestions for alternatives, or at least a morre open solution to post and share your work on these platforms.

Demand or at least strong push for uploading articles and other research outputs

To properly list your works and research outputs in your RersearchGate or Academia profiles, you need to upload the work into their repositories. ResearchGate is more predatory in this aspect compared to Academia, because Academia at least allows to link to an online resource, and it is generally less demanding to provide the actual PDF when listing a research output on your profile. In the case of Academia it is Ok to just enter the Bibliographic metadata and link to an online resource allowing any URL. ResearchGate on the contrary demands a PDF, or at least a DOI. If you do not have a proper DOI for your publication, and if you do not want to upload a PDF containing the publication, you basically can’t list this work on your ResearchGate profile.

eMail spam and nudging from ResearchGate

Another not so nice aspect of ResearchGate is its policy and conduct for eMailing its users. For example I got an Email by RG asking me if I was interested in the research a contact of my RG network is working on right now, including a link saying something like “See what X is working on”. After clicking the link, RG send a request to that contact asking him in my name , to update his RG profile to show what he is currently working on. This way RG used me to nudge a user to provide more data about him to RG. Without explanation from my side, how this request happened, that I did not intend to issue, would have had negative impact on my relationship to this researcher. This was for me the first big foul play that ResearchGate committed against me.

A second foulplay was, that they nudged me in an email to upload a publication of mine to their repository. The wrote, that they found an online resource of one of my publications. After clicking on the “See publication” link, a message was shown, that said I that they will upload this resource to my profile. I tweeted about this:

Here, RG was clearly nudging me to click a link, and assume (wrongly) that I would consent in uploading this resource. As you can see from these incidents, I have my doubts about RG in particular. From Academia I did not get this kind of offensive and also aggressive spam emails.


The best alternative would be an own website, where you have full control on how you share your work. This can be your institutional web page, an own blog or even a full own web application. The downside of this approach is of course, that you will not profit from the network effect that Academia and ResearchGate are generating. You would be responsible to share your works by your own in social networks like Twitter or Facebook, to at least promote your work a bit.

Another good alternative is ORCID, here you can list your works in a standardized manner, you can link your profile from your emails, your social media profiles or your web pages. GoogleScholar is another alternative that comes into mind.

A more open solution for posting work in ResearchGate and Academia

At the end of this quite negative post about ResearchGate and Academia, I want to provide a solution for how you can share your work on these platforms without feeding them all your data, publications and works.

Just create a plain and simple PDF containing the bibliographic metadata of your work, an abstract, or even an extended abstract, and of course links to the online resources, where people can access the publication outside of these platforms. See an example of such a PDF here, and the according entry on RG.


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