Jon Timo EuanThroughout this week members of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee have been hearing oral evidence for its inquiry into Social Media Data and Real Time analytics.

Digital Science was invited to address the committee following our written submission to the panel earlier this year. This is an area that is very pertinent to our business at Digital Science. In 2012 we made an investment in Altmetric – a company that tracks and analyses the online activity around scholarly literature – in mainstream media, on social media and blogs, and even in public policy documents and reports. So early Wednesday morning Altmetric founder, Euan Adie, Jonathan Adams, Chief Scientist at Digital Science, and I put on our suits and boots (a very rare sight) and headed to Westminster.

Here’s a very quick summary of some of the key points we made to the committee.

• Social media can and will be a force for good for our economy. The web was created to enable scientists and academics to communicate with one another. Social media enables that vision. The use of social media should not just be seen as something that is controversial and damaging, but can have wholly positive uses. This positive result has economic, social and intellectual progress for us all.

• Altmetric is proof that social media data already has real economic value – it provides a commercial service to more than 50 publishers, including many of the leading academic publishers across the globe. Data can provide valuable services that provide broad benefits for businesses.

• There is a skills gap – in London demand already outstrips supply. The most pressing deficit is the dearth of people who can bridge the divide between data analytics and scientific research. We can and do hire lots of lovely, talented staff from abroad, but by transferring skills offshore we risk losing both the insight and talent pool for UK plc.

• The government can help by ensuring that public sector agencies make relevant content and data streams more available to appropriate analysts. For example, government agencies don’t have an accurate view of the grey literature they hold, As a result, what is available is patchy and just skims the surface of the rich data that exists.

The full committee hearings are available online here if anyone wants to watch them.