The Open Science Shift

7/7/10

Recent years have seen technological revolutions in informatics, communications, and the life sciences. Xconomy readers are deeply engaged with these trends, but may be unaware of the most important development of all, the transition (sometimes painful), to an Open Science system better suited for a global, networked, knowledge economy. Sadly, rapid technical progress has thus far not been matched by a revolution in the democratization of scientific problem solving. Instead, the practices and institutions that comprise our science and innovation paradigm are badly strained, and in some cases, arguably crumbling in the face of rapid technological and economic change.

Peer review, the scientific journal, the way we measure scientific reputation and apportion funding…these basic practices embody certain unquestioned assumptions that may not have been updated since their 17th century origins. Now, a courageous contingent of early adopters is blazing a path toward greater collaboration and transparency in science. From July 29-31 at Berkeley, we’ll tell their story.

We can conceptualize the Open Science Shift roughly as follows:

1. Better Tools for Collective Intelligence:

Activists around “open notebook science” have been quick to point out their frustrations that scientists have imported the limitations of pen and paper into the digital realm. Scientists are slowly adopting Web 2.0 tools for online science. BioTorrents is a new protocol for sharing scientific data sets, inspired by the popular BitTorrent file sharing system. The rise of Open Access publishing (PloS) has blazed a new path for journals, but is only a harbinger of things to come. Science blogging and nascent social networking for scientists hint at new possibilities for faster, more accurate measurement of scientific reputation, if only the right balance can be struck to harness the “wisdom of the crowd” to accelerate progress. eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist transformed how we conduct commerce and share our stuff. Just imagine the impact of an analogous transformative platform for the way we do science. One possible contender, backed by some of the folks who were behind Skype and Lastfm, is Mendeley Research Networks.

2. Bottom up, “Open Innovation” and DIY efforts

You may have heard of Dr. Hugh Rienhoff, who made the cover of Nature a few years ago after his heroic efforts to discover the genetic mechanisms behind his daughter’s rare condition gave new meaning to the phrase “personal genomics.” But do you know about Scott Johnson of the Myelin Repair Foundation, Craig Benson who founded Beyond Batten, or Beth Anne Baber, who created the Nicholas Connor Institute for Pediatric Cancer? Each of these “cure entrepreneurs” saw a failure of the current biomedical system and stepped up to create their own research initiatives to fill the gap. Come meet garage biology “hackers” like the ones pictured here. Can a generation of “DIY” biology hobbyists help kickstart … Next Page »

Joseph Jackson is a philosopher, entrepreneur, activist, and organizer in the Open Science Movement. He is CEO of Lava-Amp, a company building an inexpensive hardware platform for portable PCR, for use in developing countries and in biology education. Follow @

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