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ResearchGate Aims to Create the ‘Cloud’ of Scientific Knowledge

Ijad Madisch built ResearchGate to counter a great unspoken problem in scientific research: the incredible amount of time scientists waste on approaches that have already failed.

This so-called “research redundancy” is caused by scientific journals’ practice of emphasizing hypothesis-proving studies in what they publish, rather than those where research didn’t back up a hypothesis. Yet Mr. Madisch estimates positive results represent perhaps only two percent to five percent of the work that scientists carry out. That implies that upwards of 95 percent of researchers’ work doesn’t pan out. And because their colleagues usually don’t have access to those unsuccessful studies in publications, they may unknowingly pursue hypotheses that have already been disproven.

And so Mr. Madisch created ResearchGate, based in Berlin, to act as a social network for scientists to upload and share both the positive and negative in their work. Like GitHub, the open-source code hosting site, it helps scientists build up a professional reputation. With $35 million in funding from Accel Partners, Benchmark, Founders Fund and Bill Gates, the site now has more than six million members. Seventy percent of all scientific papers published between 2011 and 2014 had at least one author who was a member, according to Mr. Madisch.

But ResearchGate is trying to replace a system that’s developed over almost a century and where time-honored mastheads still open many doors to funding. The Information chatted with Mr. Madisch about the challenges posed by his venture. Edited excerpts below.

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