The Open Science Shift

7/7/10

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a new biotech revolution the way the home brew computer club did for personal computing? Disclaimer: I’m biased, since I helped assemble the lab shown in that link!

If garage labs worry, you, perhaps it will reassure you to know that special agent Ed You of the FBI is on the case (or perhaps not!) We’ll have several leading thinkers on the topic of bio-security respond to the growing DIY biology phenomenon.

3. Radically different financial, legal, and incentive mechanisms that encourage and require collaboration, transparency, and sharing.

The vast majority of research funding in the US is routed through the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Does it make sense to have such a “single point of failure” for science funding, and what are the biases built into the system? How about “microfinance for science” crowd-funding platforms that specifically fund young grad students and post docs instead of older, established principal investigators whose reputations are already secured and, who, after gaining tenure, may have put their best days behind them? That’s what motivated David Vitrant, founder of fundscience.org, Dave Fries, creator of Sciflies.org, and Zach Burke, who oversees Eurekafund.org, a funding site for technologies focused on energy and environment.

Over two and half days, July 29-31, at the inaugural Open Science Summit at Berkeley, we’ll consider all these issues and more. The venue itself is significant. Only a short time ago, Berkeley received the largest corporate grant in the university’s history from BP. Along with many of our conference participants, I enthusiastically support synthetic biology, an emerging field of tremendous promise that could prevent and mitigate environmental catastrophes like the one we’re experiencing. Yet, the role of Big Oil/Big Energy in funding this set of technologies, and the modern research university’s dependency on this money, raises hard questions that must be answered. Will we choose an “open source” path for developing synthetic biology platforms, transparently assessing the safety risks and preventing any one actor from achieving a monopoly, so that everyone shares the economic benefits?

When Berkeley recently announced an option for incoming members of this year’s freshman class to participate in a genomics study, the move was immediately criticized by several prominent ethics groups. Yet the age of personal genomics is here, like it or not. Discouraging students from exploring this frontier seems out of touch at best, paternalistic at worst.

The UC system is under siege with budget cuts that threaten to gut the very foundations of California’s knowledge economy. In the final insult to already serious injuries, Nature Publishing Group and the UC library system are currently engaged in a standoff over proposed hikes in subscription fees to the world’s most prestigious set of journals.

Clearly, it is time for all those concerned about the future of science to stand together to build a better path forward. Please join me at the end of July to chart this course.

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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