Sometimes it seems as if the Internet has created a bold new era of openness. But if there is one place where openness appears to be lagging, it would be scientific research. The scientific community is full of intricate (and often little-known) systems that regulate and control it, sometimes to great purpose, but sometimes to its own detriment.
Scarce funding has created a competitive environment obsessed with the publication of successful positive studies. But often, useful information is neither positive nor complete. Emphasis on publication incentivizes scientists to hoard their work in its early stages, and it reinforces the idea that the only work worth sharing is that which yields a successful confirmation of a hypothesis. When the study doesn’t work as expected, it’s often filed away.
This kind of bias is especially dangerous in the health care industry. Doctors’ decisions carry a life-or-death importance that requires the disclosure of all relevant information. Overlooking or obscuring new medical information, whether intentional or not, is a danger to all of us.
Michael Nielsen uses his TEDx talk to explore how an open industry may lead to more rapid and efficient solving of today’s most difficult scientific problems.
Sharing three examples — the Polymath project, the Quantum Wiki and the GenBank — Nielsen describes the advantages and pitfalls of an open system. He concludes that to convince scientists to contribute to collaborative projects that may advance the greater good, rather that focus only on their own publications, we must make collaboration essential to their survival. More succinctly: “Any publicly funded science should be open science.”
Meanwhile, Jay Bradner’s talk serves as a personal report from the front lines of the fight against cancer — and the possibilities of open science. After discovering an important compound for cancer research, Bradner and his team decided to ask: “What would happen if we were as open and honest at the earliest phase of discovery chemistry research as we could be?”
His firsthand account shows how day-one openness helped him and his colleagues advance their research rapidly and efficiently. By borrowing “from the amazing successes of the computer-science industry,