Is the Future of Science Research Open?

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What was the last magazine you read? Every once in awhile, a magazine floats through my house with an article that catches my attention. The May, 2008 issue of Scientific American has on the cover “Science 2.0: The Risks and Rewards of Web-Based Research”. Whoa… I thought that maybe this would be an interesting article, but I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I wasn’t sure if Scientists are embracing the Collaborative Web, or if they’re pushing it away. One quote in the article said: “Although Wiki’s are gaining, Scientists have been strikingly slow to embrace one of the most popular Web 2.0 applications: Weblogging (Blogging)”.

The four key concepts of the article are:

  • Science 2.0 generally refers to new practices of scientists who post raw experimental results, nascent theories, claims of discovery and draft papers on the Web for others to see and comment on.
  • Proponents say these “open access” practices make scientific progress more collaborative and therefore more productive.
  • Critics say scientists who put preliminary findings online risk having others copy or exploit the work to gain credit or even patents.
  • Despite pros and cons, Science 2.0 sites are beginning to proliferate; one notable example is the OpenWetWare project started by biological engi­neers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The first generation of World Wide Web capabilities rapidly transformed retailing and information search. More recent attributes such as blogging, tagging and social networking, dubbed Web 2.0, have just as quickly expanded people’s ability not just to consume online information but to publish it, edit it and collaborate about it—forcing such old-line institutions as journalism, marketing and even politicking to adopt whole new ways of thinking and operating.

Science could be next. A small but growing number of researchers (and not just the younger ones) have begun to carry out their work via the wide-open tools of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be called a movement—yet—their experiences to date suggest that this kind of Web-based “Science 2.0” is not only more collegial than traditional science but considerably more productive.

I don’t think Science could be hurt by more collaboration. By mixing more Macro with more Micro may produce more interesting conversations within the Scientific community. The potential for collaboration to exist is Infinity… in both directions.


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