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Data-sharing and open-access

Michael Nielsen suggests greater use of data-sharing and open-access as the path forward:

Why don’t scientists share?

If you’re a scientist applying for a job or a grant, the biggest factor determining your success will be your record of scientific publications. If that record is stellar, you’ll do well. If not, you’ll have a problem. So you devote your working hours to tasks that will lead to papers in scientific journals.

Even if you personally think it would be far better for science as a whole if you carefully curated and shared your data online, that is time away from your “real” work of writing papers. Except in a few fields, sharing data is not something your peers will give you credit for doing.

There are other ways in which scientists are still backward in using online tools. Consider, for example, the open scientific wikis launched by a few brave pioneers in fields like quantum computing, string theory and genetics (a wiki allows the sharing and collaborative editing of an interlinked body of information, the best-known example being Wikipedia).

Specialized wikis could serve as up-to-date reference works on the latest research in a field, like rapidly evolving super-textbooks. They could include descriptions of major unsolved scientific problems and serve as a tool to find solutions.

But most such wikis have failed. They have the same problem as data sharing: Even if scientists believe in the value of contributing, they know that writing a single mediocre paper will do far more for their careers. The incentives are all wrong.

If networked science is to reach its potential, scientists will have to embrace and reward the open sharing of all forms of scientific knowledge, not just traditional journal publication. Networked science must be open science. But how to get there?

A good start would be for government grant agencies (like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation) to work with scientists to develop requirements for the open sharing of knowledge that is discovered with public support. Such policies have already helped to create open data sets like the one for the human genome. But they should be extended to require earlier and broader sharing. Grant agencies also should do more to encourage scientists to submit new kinds of evidence of their impact in their fields—not just papers!—as part of their applications for funding.

The scientific community itself needs to have an energetic, ongoing conversation about the value of these new tools. We have to overthrow the idea that it’s a diversion from “real” work when scientists conduct high-quality research in the open. Publicly funded science should be open science.

Improving the way that science is done means speeding us along in curing cancer, solving the problem of climate change and launching humanity permanently into space. It means fundamental insights into the human condition, into how the universe works and what it’s made of. It means discoveries not yet dreamt of.

In the years ahead, we have an astonishing opportunity to reinvent discovery itself. But to do so, we must first choose to create a scientific culture that embraces the open sharing of knowledge.

Apart from the hyperbole and misplaced faith in more science, I generally agree.

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Categories: Academia
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