The Science of Sustainability

Open Source Science on the Internet

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How can the Internet help spread scientific discoveries? The internet has heralded a new level of openness and data sharing since its inception. While this revolution of information has swept across our society, openly sharing information in the scientific arena has yet to see a boon in activity. With scientists remaining extremely protective over their discoveries, we have to ask if this behavior is hampering future scientific discoveries.

That is the question Dr Michael Nielsen, whose forthcoming book about Open Science “Reinventing Discovery", attempts to explain and fix.

If we want to socialize science among the world of social media and more broadly across the Internet, we must ask why scientists continue to "horde" data. How can we influence the world of scientific academia so that scientists feel more willing to share their best ideas and problems?

Nielson will be sharing his discoveries about how to build a Open Science revolution at the Public Library of Science on June 29th in San Francisco. As the PLoS site states:

"The net is transforming many aspects of our society, from finance to friendship. And yet scientists, who helped create the net, are extremely conservative in how they use it. Although the net has great potential to transform science, most scientists remain stuck in a centuries-old system for the construction of knowledge.

Michael will describe some leading-edge projects that show how online tools can radically change and improve science (using projects in Mathematics and Citizen Science as examples), and he will then go on to discuss why these tools haven’t spread to all corners of science, and how we can change that."

If you'd like to hear more about the Open Science movement and Nielsen's talk, visit PLoS or watch his TED Talk about Open Science:

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Laura Khalil

About the Author ()

Laura is a marketer by day and nerd by night. She's the Chief Nerd Herder for Dorkbyte, a blog devoted to art, technology and science. She's been named one of the most engaging women to speak about technology and has been featured on The Setup. A member of Noisebridge, she is working on two robotics challenges, leading a puzzle team that competes in a variety of puzzle challenges throughout the US and monkeys around on ham amateur radio. She loves astronomy, Making and hardware hacking. She was most recently involved in teaching hardware circuitry at Maker Faire.Laura has executed marketing strategies and campaigns for tech startups in the Bay Area. Her work with social media has been inducted into the Viral Marketing Hall of Fame.
  • Kim Vincent

    Thanks for sharing – I wish he was able to suggest more ways the public can promote open source science, but interesting nonetheless.

  • Scott Rains

    One of the ways science fails to become "open source" is when its tools are not accessible to all. For example, some students do not have access to print textbooks. Online and open educational resource (OER) STEM textbooks are a step toward a solution. The next challenge to be solved is representation of graphical information for those with print disabilities. Benetech's DIAGRAM Center is taking the lead there in partnership with pioneers like WGBH Boston:

    http://diagramcenter.org/

  • Andrés Martín-Quirós

    Great! I've just averted a great danger: last week I got the wiki idea. I discussed it informally with some friends and lab mates, and came to the conclusion that it wouldn't motivate anyone.

    The problem here is the funding.Either you get private funding for your project, and then it's their results, or you get public funding for your project, and then it's your and your institution's results.So you cannot really choose freely how openly to reveal your work. In the best cases there are some little limitations, but if your project has potential for the generation of new technology then you won't be allowed to reveal anything just in case patents could be derived from your work.

    And then of course you won't be willing to reveal your work because you want either a position or better chances to get funding for your next projects, so you want publications (and patents) and if possible with high impact factor. You want credit, and the kind of credit that translates into money and fame (well, the "science version" of that, that is).That actually works fine for the journals and publishers and the people rating them and the universities. So, in short, the possibility of making science is nowadays coupled to business and actually sicence is fostering some subsidiary markets (such as the rating of scientific productivity, and the publication of science). So of course the values are those of business: competitivity and quantitably efficient production: individualism and greed, that is.

  • Andrés Martín-Quirós

    How to circumvent that? How to get to cooperativity as opposed to competitivity and qualitative advancement as opposed to quantitable productivity? I say, through open funding. Possibly it's not the best solution, but I think it's an idea worth exploring. Let's imagine something like an online microfunding platform backed by a foundation where anyone can publicly propose projects with an included (and very special) "budget" and anyone can donate funds to the project. The results, state of development and needs of a given project could be updated in more or less real time.Let's say that in order to add a project to the platform anyone participating must accept that the results have to be made public through the project section of the platform, shared under something like a Creative Commons license and uploaded as soon as they are produced. Let's say anyone can collaborate in interpreting the results, reproducing any given experiment at their lab and even asking for controls or additional experiments to be made in order to prove the point or clarify any issues. Anyone could hop on or off the project anytime.

    Funding requirements should be updated in real time as well so there would not be funds for the whole project but for its particular parts. If anyone would wish to contribute from their remote lab, they could open a sub-project with its own funding requirements. Of course anyone receiving funding for a specific purpose would have to justify every penny (this could be handled by the foundation, for example not letting anyone touch the money but purchasing the required goods and services in the name of the end user, making the accounting books public and auditing the end users to verify the use of the goods and services obtained).Of course people could donate their work or resources as well as money (e.g. allowing the use of equipment in their lab or institution or performing some of the required tasks).

    I think this is as yet a rough and badly explained idea (mainly because of my poor English and scarce eloquence), but worth thinking about and expanding. The main idea is making projects cooperative through co-owning them. In the end is not science said to be the greatest common endeavour of mankind?

  • Barry Starr

    This is a great idea and you explained it beautifully. I'd love to see some foundation give it a whirl. It would be interesting to see how many scientists would actually choose this as a funding resource since for right now, success is dependent on publications and publications are dependent on keeping knowledge secret until it is ready to be unveiled. I also wonder if it might actually slow science down as success in big projects depends a lot on the build up of expertise in a lab (as anyone who has taken over a new project in a lab knows). Spreading lots of subprojects may slow things down.

  • Barry Starr

    PS I dealt with this very problem in my post at http://www.kqed.org/quest/blog/2011/03/14/secretive-openness/. People will have to wait for the eventual journal article to see why redwoods are sometimes albino.