Open science

This is my second post toward the novice badge, for the open science topic. I’ll need to pick up the pace, for sure, but hey, one step at a time.

Science has serious problems, problems the scientific community might not even see as problems. Every one of these issues lead to inefficiencies in scientific progress, not simply delaying but sometimes preventing scientific breakthroughs.

1) A culture of secrecy.

We all have in our minds the idea of the mad scientist, a solitary soul trapped in his lab, inventing something to be revealed only when it’s finished. As described by Micheal Nielsen, the reward system in academia and for commercial researchers lies in publishing papers, and scooping your competition.
Changing the culture to reward open initiatives, even if it’s only with a pat on the back, would make a world of difference.
Secrecy also leads to the absence of transparency, something that can be addressed by using open science notebooks. by documenting the scientific process all the way through, reviewers have the possibility of cross-examining the evidence to assess the quality of the research.

2) Legal firewalls.

Academic publishing, instead of spreading knowledge, contains it behind walled gardens under expensive subscription models that only large institutions can afford. These control mechanisms also make the use of data-drilling an semantic techniques illegal, preventing machine-driven analyses that could show multi-disciplinary links between disciplines, such as the one described in the Science Commons document between Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Open licensing of data and research would make the legal processes less cumbersome, letting scientists do what they do best: science.

3) Publishers protecting their monopoly on scientific papers.

Publishers have made a lot of money of copy-editing and reselling of academic work. Their whole business model is shaken by open-access journals and open access policies certain institutions are putting in place. They have made their position clear by supporting the Research Works Act at the end of last year, a bill that would have made requirements to publish results of publicly-funded research available on the open web a lot more difficult.
Until funding agencies and disciplines alike take a stand for open-access policies and publication, chances are that lobbyists will continue to fight for the status quo.

4) Research silos.

Disciplines are very different in nature, and regulations and practices vary greatly between them. Open processes in social sciences would probably need to be revised significantly to apply to genetics, and to pharmaceutical research, etc.
I like the approach described in the Science Commons document. It is simply a matter of choosing a low hanging fruit, making a case for openness, and them taking your pilgrim stick to spread the joy to other disciplines. This will not happen overnight, but it has to start now.
Any other points that struck you as important in there?

4 thoughts on “Open science

  1. So timely. Did you see the news out of Australia today–that the National Health and Medical Research Council has announced that all funded research will be made available to the public starting July. Totally agree with your statement: “Open licensing of data and research would make the legal processes less cumbersome, letting scientists do what they do best: science.” All of what we accomplish is built on the knowledge gained from those who came before us. Some claim, however, that making everything open will actually harm research by removing financial incentives (you mention the publishers, but I’m referring to the marketing of drugs, etc). What are your thoughts on this?

    • I would argue that the research data should be made publicly available, which doesn’t take away the need for patents (or limited-time monopolies on commercialization of research). The length of patents should be proportionate to the time required to break even, in my opinion. Every cent made after the patent has expired should be pure gravy to the originator, so it becomes a marketing game at that point.

  2. Pingback: Claiming my novice badge for #ioe12 | Open Reflections

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