Post by Minna Krejci
As we blast through this information age, the ease and speed with which we can acquire, process, modify, and contribute to available information continues to accelerate. Through blogs, wikis, and other social media entities, information becomes dynamic rather than static, creating a conversation.
The creators of the website Science 2.0 envisioned the concept of Science 2.0 as collaboration, communication, participation and publication. Science could be communicated directly from the source instead of filtered by various limitations (such as size, or the opinion of an editor). Scientists and non-scientists could have the opportunity to write freely about science topics that they enjoy discussing and improve their writing and communication skills.
The idea of “open science” emerged as an important element of Science 2.0, where scientific research becomes more transparent, and research results are shared openly amongst scientific and non-scientific audiences.
The merits of this approach are fairly obvious — knowledge and information can drive progress. But there are several hitches that may need to be addressed:
If all information is freely available, how do you know what’s relevant and what’s not? How much time do you spend reading websites and articles that weren’t exactly what you were looking for, possibly being led farther and farther off track? If you’re like me, this can be known as the “where on earth did 5 hours of my day just go?” syndrome — more popularly, this is the “rabbit hole risk” of information overload.
The “spigot risk” is that information is growing exponentially, while our reading and filtering abilities are not.
Particularly due to the spigot risk, we tend to rely on external forces to do our searching, collecting, and filtering of information for us (like google searches or possibly social networks). How is this influencing what information we end up receiving?
In terms of primary scientific research and publication, there is the possibility that allowing more people to publish more data more frequently may result in a general decrease in the quality of the work published. Or at least a perceived decrease, if researchers are making unpolished documents like lab notebooks freely available.
Potentially more important is the fact that open access to scientific results is likely to correlate with greater media sensationalism. If the results of a preliminary experiment point to a certain conclusion, then the release of this information before the results are verified might lead to unjustified hype. (How many times has the discovery of the Higgs boson been reported?) This argues for continued control over what results get leaked to the blogosphere and to journalists.
If a research group spends five years and millions of dollars to find out that something doesn’t work, do they want to share that information with other groups? Ideally, yes… but in the process, they may be saving time for their competitors and losing their own competitive advantage in the race for grant money. It’s worth mentioning here the concept of open innovation, a sort of intermediate level of information-sharing that is increasing in popularity in the business world, where companies buy or license processes or inventions from other companies instead of developing everything in-house.
Open access to scientific journals seems to be something that scientists want when they’re reading papers but not when they’re publishing papers. Some of this has to do with money. No one wants to pay to read a paper; however, open access journals need to cover costs somehow, so they often ask authors to pay a fee to publish. The result? Authors don’t want to publish there. (Another part of this is prestige: if you publish your work in an open-access journal like PLoS ONE that doesn’t judge papers based on perceived merit, does this mean that your work has less merit than that published elsewhere?)
I’m by no means trying to discourage the sharing of information — that would defeat the purpose of this blog! I just wanted to point out a few of the most popular discussion topics I’ve seen regarding Science 2.0 and open science.
At least, these are the most popular discussion topics according to my google searches and trips down rabbit holes…