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During a monthslong project to prove that the mesentery — folded tissue that connects the intestines to the wall of the abdomen — was in fact a human organ, Professor Coffey regularly turned to his followers on ResearchGate, a free Facebook-style social network aimed solely at scientists worldwide, for tips and suggestions on where his four-person team should focus their research.

“It’s real-time feedback from people who are experts in this field,” said Professor Coffey, who published his findings last month in the The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, a prestigious British medical journal. “It’s not like your typical social media.”

That paper was, in part, shaped by his interactions on the social network, indicative of a shift in how scientific research is conducted. As Professor Coffey noted, researchers once faced difficulty in getting feedback from peers before publication, and their projects were often closed to outsiders.

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