[Insight-users] Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results - The Boston Globe

Luis Ibanez luis.ibanez at kitware.com
Thu Aug 21 19:49:45 EDT 2008

Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results

Younger researchers break custom, post data


CAMBRIDGE - Barry Canton, a 28-year-old biological engineer at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has posted raw scientific data,
his thesis proposal, and original research ideas on an online website
for all to see.

To young people primed for openness by the confessional existence they
live online, that may not seem like a big deal.

But in the world of science - where promotions, tenure, and fortune rest
on publishing papers in prestigious journals, securing competitive
grants, and patenting discoveries - it's a brazen, potentially
self-destructive move. To many scientists, leaving unfinished work and
ideas in the open seems as reckless as leaving your debit card and
password at a busy ATM machine.

Canton is part of a peaceful insurgency in science that is beginning to
pry open an endeavor that still communicates its cutting-edge
discoveries in much the same way it has since Ben Franklin was
experimenting with lightning. Papers are published in research journals
after being reviewed by specialists to ensure that the methods and
conclusions are sound, a process that can take many months.

"We're a generation who expects all information is a Google search
away," Canton said. "Not only is it a Google search away, but it's also
released immediately. As soon as it happens, the video is up on YouTube
and on all the blogs. The old model feels kind of crazy when you're used
to this instant information."

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists
presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science
movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages
scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are
ready to present results, when they are devising research questions,
running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom
of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And
scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty
subscription fees charged by most journals.


or example, OpenWetWare.org started out in 2005 as Endipedia, a website
that scientists in Drew Endy and Tom Knight's labs at MIT used to share
information. But today the website is backed by a National Science
Foundation grant, and more than 4,000 biologists and bioengineers from
across the world have signed up to share techniques, get practical tips,
and even detail their day-to-day work if they choose.

Science Commons, a nonprofit group based at MIT, works to Web-enable the
scientific enterprise by working on other aspects of openness: trying to
find ways to make inaccessible journals broadly available and developing
Internet tools to ease sharing of information.

Another local effort, Somerville's Journal of Visualized Experiments, is
an open-access video journal that seeks to increase transparency in the
how-to part of science, since researchers often waste time trying to
replicate another team's experiment.


Full paper at:

Welcome to Science 2.0 !

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