Monthly Archives: June 2011

Scientists can be selfish too

I have to admit I didn’t think of science as an industry in the same way I thought about the music industry or journalism. For me, science research was some vague thing undertaken by very intelligent people that went through some mysterious processes to establish its validity and eventually benefitted me, and the public, in the form of diagnoses, cures and treatments. It never really occurred to me that science research might be some people’s livelihood or that certain individuals might put their individual aspirations above that of the public good. What seemed self-evident for musicians, that they might not want to throw all their hard work out there for free public consumption, seemed not quite right for science and health publishing. Somehow they seemed to noble for this.

But of course, it is an industry and hence, the open source, free sharing nature of the internet has the potential to really shake things up.

The debate is in fact very familiar; general and increasing agreement about the public benefit of sharing and openness punctuated by frequent cries of ‘What about my job?!’

I am in agreement with the two articles we were directed to, both of which were generally positive about new media and science publishing. As Elizabeth Pisani states in her article  Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds, the example of genetics demonstrates the success of sharing and collaborating between researchers. Once science funders decided they would only fund geneticists who were willing to make their data available immediately, the access to information on gene sequences increased exponentially and the pace of discovery and cures in tandem.

Similarly, in the article On Science Publishing, John Wilbanks claims that we are entering a world where the publication of research serves as a distributed commons of knowledge, ‘as the beginning of millions of research cycles, not where a short set of pages represents the end of a research investment’. Wilbanks is very positive towards to potential of new media for science and is critical of the fact that there are still limits and barriers to access.

Science researchers are an indispensable part of society and finding new ways to incite them to share their knowledge and data with the public is key.

Maybe the large amount of money saved by major funders through only funding researchers who are willing to share their work could be used to pay these researchers an increased amount.

As with journalism and the music industry, we are once again relying on a society built on goodwill rather than greed. However, no-one believed that thousands upon thousands of people would rush to share their knowledge with no tangible benefit yet Wikipedia exists and thrives. I think it helps to have faith in the inherent goodness of society.

References:

Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) ‘Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds’, The Guardian, January 11

Wilbanks, John (2011) ‘On Science Publishing’, Seed