Reinventing Research? : information practices in the humanities (PDF link), a 2011 report from the UK’s RIN consortium. The report looked at all digital research resources, not just social media. The English Department at the University of Birmingham was one of the case-studies, which presents an interesting three-page snapshot of digital usage (or not — only two staff were bloggers) in a single department.

From the summary of the report…

“We found only limited use — except among philosophers — of blogs and other social media.” […] there is little evidence as yet of their taking full advantage of the possibilities of more advanced tools for text-mining, grid or cloud computing, or the semantic web; and only limited uptake of even simple, freely-available tools for data management and sharing.”

There may also be some overestimation of usage of new media for the dissemination of research findings. This is something that may be increasingly important in the UK in future, as funding becomes partly dependent on the public ‘impact’ of public-funded research. This apparent overestimation doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the RIN report, but it was summed up in a comment from Dr. Michael Jubb, Director of the Research Information Network (RIN)…

“While they [researchers] say they’re using [these] tools for dissemination, in fact they’re not. When you look at the research results they’re not using these kind of tools to aid dissemination, they’re going back to conference papers and journal articles in the traditional way…”

He made the comment in the questions after a recent talk in Harrogate by Bill Russell (presenting huge-sample research which found that Skype and Google Docs were the most used of the new digital resources).

Such lackadaisical behaviour may be dangerous. Change is coming fast. It doesn’t seem that our academics may have a great deal of time and leisure in which to make the change…

“There is a new global race in scientific research and it’s so fast it may well be of world historical importance, a signal of a new, expanding Enlightenment, unconstrained by national boundaries, powered by multilateral institutions and open access publishing through the web, and, above all, by the belief, first put forward by one of the founders of the Royal Society, the Irish scientist Robert Boyle, that knowledge teems with profitable invention. Reading through the 144-page report [ Knowledge, networks and nations (Royal Society, March 2011) ], one can almost sense the authors — some of Britain’s most distinguished scientists — marveling at the findings.”

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