A group of investors that includes Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has invested $35 million in ResearchGate, a five-year-old Berlin-based social networking website for scientists. The site, a kind of Facebook for scientists, hopes to upend the traditional world of peer-reviewed scholarly publishing.
Gates, who is known for his support of scientific endeavors to eradicate disease, particularly in developing countries, had no comment on the investment.
The money will be used to spur innovative ways to share and search for scientific data online, says Ijad Madisch, ResearchGate’s cofounder and CEO. So far, nearly 3 million users, including more than 1.3 million life scientists and nearly 270,000 chemists, have registered to use the website.
Rafael Luque Alvarez de Sotomayor, a professor of organic chemistry at Spain’s University of Cordoba, has used the site since 2008. He calls it “a reliable platform to showcase research and to get in touch with other researchers.” It can aid the careers of young scientists, such as that of a Philippines-based researcher whom Sotomayor says he met through the site. In 2011, they published a paper in Green Chemistry on converting waste oil into biodiesel fuel (DOI: 10.1039/c1gc15908a).
But ResearchGate’s goal is to become more than a networking tool. Madisch says he wants to see the website become a publishing platform to replace traditional peer-reviewed journals.
Website members can publish both positive and negative results on ResearchGate, says Madisch, who has a Ph.D. in virology from Hannover Medical School, in Germany. Peers can review research publicly instead of behind the scenes and comment more quickly than is now the case, he says.
Sotomayor says he is not convinced that ResearchGate can substitute for peer-reviewed journals and sees it more as a networking site. Still, traditional publishers are eyeing ResearchGate and similar websites warily. One scientific publisher, Reed Elsevier, purchased ResearchGate competitor Mendeley in April. Elsevier said the purchase will increase its engagement with researchers.