NSL Blog

Open science part of our non-linear world

February 4, 2013

Networked research and innovation:  Science like other industries faces significantly interlinked challenges; how is science going to be funded in the future, and how does one accelerate scientific breakthrough? Who has the right to access? Because many innovative ideas that have changed society have arisen from the combination of curiosity and academic freedom.

Open Access policy guidelines: The British Government has been pursuing OA policy guidelines for a while based upon The Finch Report. The plan is to make publicly funded research available to anyone to read for free by 2014. This means that all research, which is supported with public funds ought to be published in the Open Access model. In No Straight Lines we talk abut the economics of sharing, and the benefits of working in a more open way – with many eyes all bugs are shallow wrote Eric Raymond, the lessons of the open source code movement is that networked co-creation unleashes innovation. Just have a look at the polymath blog run by Cambridge Maths Professor, Sir Timothy Gowers who believes that massively collaborative mathematics is possible. In The Cost of Knowledge the case is made that academic publishing has become so broken it is no longer delivering value to the overall scientific community. For example, In 2006, the nine editorial board members of Oxford University‘s Elsevier-published mathematics journal Topology resigned because they agreed among themselves that Elsevier’s publishing policies had “a significant and damaging effect on Topology’s reputation in the mathematical research community.” And an online petition tha argued for a more open approach to scientific publishing was signed by 12,730 academics as of September last year.

Open Science can only have a positive impact on the exchange of ideas within the scientific community. So what can we learn?

  • Practices in the open source software community offer a model for encouraging large-scale scientific problem solving.
  • Open up your problem to other people in a systematic way. A problem may reside in one domain of expertise and the solution may reside in another.
  •  Find innovative licensing ways or legal regimes that allow people to share knowledge without risking the overall intellectual property

In Carlsbad, near San Diego is creating a community laboratory space inspired by Genspace in NYC and BioCurious in Sunnyvale, CA, the laboratory will be open to the public and feature equipment not available to amateur scientists. DIYBio San Diego, intends to attract people that are passionate about science but it is not their day job and professionals that wish to pursue their own ideas. Not unlike the Fab Labs for manufacturing.

Why is open science so important? An open collaborative approach to research, innovation and commercialisation points the way towards those economies prepared to stay open and create national innovation architectures that support a diversified landscape of vigorous firms, institutions and technologies will repeat the amazing feat of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century. But such innovation ecosystems will not be created spontaneously; there is a need to develop an ecosystem premised upon Openness which is counter intuitive to how we currently view research, academic life and innovation. Then add on to that a growing grass roots movement where laboratory equipment is being designed and built using open source technologies and 3D printers.

Openness and the DNA of Humanity: There is one more aspect of this story that we need to address why is it that an open approach to, in this instance, science is connected to our fundamental human DNA? In writing No Straight Lines we created this algebraic equation I+WE=Why? The evolution of the answer was a journey into understanding how and why we as a species works, how we create identity (The Idea of the Self), (The Power of Identity) how we create meaning, why we give our creative best. Simply put Human Beings are designed to work in aggregates, humanity surges forward when we can work collaboratively towards a common cause. And so the current paradigm of “I” limits our potential, and the current linear model of limiting those who can and cannot access or engage in science reduces our potential. There is a powerful case for harnessing collective intelligence, and then releasing that knowledge to our wider society. It might be of interest that when the Libraries Act of 1850 was passed which first gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries. The power elites of Great Britain believed that providing such amounts of information to the working class would result civil unrest and possibly much worse. How little does power trust the majority and how true that has been for as long as we have had highly structured societies. Just read Barbara Ehrenreich, or reflect on the Assad regime resisting its own people.

We need to create systems, eco-systems that are designed around the overall needs of humanity, and scientific endeavour is no different. Many will resist whilst making powerful arguments as to why this is such a bad idea – but the reality is it is very good idea. Faster alone they say but further together.

Further reading The promise of an Open Innovation Platform.



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