As research has become increasingly specialized and complex, this DIY/barter system has ceased to function effectively. It is no longer possible for a single scientist to master all the techniques or purchase all the equipment required to conduct their experiments, and they cannot maintain sufficient personal networks to enable effective bartering for all of the complex experiments required. Frequently, an entire university cannot provide all the expertise necessary for a research project, over 60% of papers are now co-authored by investigators from multiple institutions.
The amount of collaboration required in research will continue to increase, driven by many factors including increased specialization, more complex and large scale instrumentation, and an increasing desire to obtain cross-fertilization across disciplines. With large teams of scientists, often based at remote institutions, increasingly needing to work together to solve complex problems, there will be a demand for new tools to help facilitate collaboration. Specifically, there will be an increasing need for tools that allow researchers to easily find and access other scientists with the expertise required to advance their research projects. To operate most efficiently these tools also need new methods to reward researchers for participating in these collaborations.
The digital marketplace model provides a mechanism for researchers to list their expertise so that other researchers can easily find them and request collaborations. Several sites that allow for scientific networking exist including Mendeley, ResearchGate, and BiomedExperts, but these are not specifically designed to facilitate formal transactions between scientists. ScienceExchange serves less of a social networking and discussion function, and instead offers a fee-for-service marketplace, delineating a clear incentive for experts to participate in collaborations that they may not have been interested in previously.
Although serendipity in human interactions across many domains can be wonderful and fruitful, there is a downside to relying exclusively on chance bringing the right scientists together at the right time. By formalizing and democratizing access to scientific collaboration, the internet age will be a powerful force in improving the speed and quality of scientific research.