I’ve been thinking a lot about what Science really means to me and what the philosophers of science have said about the system of science. I love Newton’s famous notion about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” but I don’t necessarily see it in that way… especially in my line of research investigating altmetrics and scholarly communication.
It’s a blustery evening in Finland and I am watching the trees bend and shed leaves in the strong breeze while thinking about this. It seems to me that the system of science resembles an ecosystem in which we try to make our lives meaningful and to shed light on our surroundings. We do, of course, use the work of others to view things through their eyes, but I don’t see myself standing on their shoulders and reaching for the stars. Instead I see myself as a small sapling, struggling for nourishment in a vast forest. At the same time, I view those before me, especially those marvelous minds from which I borrow, as large trees that shade me from the sun and break the harsh winds blowing over me. I see the trees of Goffman and Gibson, of Heidegger and Kant, and on and on, in my part of the forest. These solid, long standing trees protect me and nourish me, allowing me to grow and to become a tree myself.
As scholarly communication and science has changed, so too has the ecosystem. We are no longer simply trying to aspire to being the trees that provide the root system of science, we are also trying to spread and have an impact outside our forests. I feel like we are now flowering trees, making pollen that can be carried away to the farthest fields with hopes of having an impact on our surroundings. We have evolved to make use of the technologies that have become a part of our world, to attract the attention of others so that they can carry our pollen away. A large part of this new technology and ecosystem is the internet, specifically social media and other online sources of information. Social media users are the bees that we need to spread our pollen, our information, outside of our isolated forests. What the bees are doing with this information, we don’t yet know. But what we do know is that they can spread it faster and farther than ever before.
Through my work I hope we can figure out where our information is being spread and what kinds of impact we are having on society.