Today was a strategic day, it seems

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In particular, I came across the Wellcome Trust's Strategic Plan 2010-20 and ICSU's Strategic Plan 2012-2017.

Furthermore, as a follow-up to our previous conversations, Janet Haven from the Open Society Institute's Information Initiative sent me some supplementary questions in relation to their strategy (in which open science may or may not play a role, but it is now kind of short-listed as a potential major strategic element), on which I will briefly reflect here before passing on the ball to you.

Finally, a major scientific society asked me for input about the likely advantages and drawbacks of allowing, as per default, all content of the scientific sessions of their conferences to be broadcast live in any medium, and whether it would be sensible to make this a standard requirement whenever they sign the contract with the organizers of an upcoming conference.

I find the last item a bit daunting for tonight, so I will just link to a blog post on a related discussion (that of how to signal which way of broadcasting a conference is OK) and invite your comments, so that, hopefully, I can send them a useful reply within a few days.

Image via Phil, depicting a game of Shogi (将棋).


Back to Janet's questions, along with my intuitive response that may miss some aspects:

How does open science square with patents and other intellectual property issues?

Open science squares badly with copyright, since this heavily restricts reuse and provides a constant burden on anyone trying to do anything in the open. However, copyright is not the only way to deal with intellectual property from a legal point of view, and I think replacing it with licensing schemes - in which creators can restrict certain kinds of reuses but allow others, without the need to obtain separate permissions - would be the way to go, and it is being gone already. For example, a shoe manufacturer can open up a patent or protocol on a particular type of rubber for any reuse (think tyres, inflatable boats etc.) except anything related to producing shoes, while they may still license it for a fee to other shoe manufacturers. Huge reduction in environmental footprint of the rubber industry, plus a speed-up of innovation cycles, since people are freed from reinventing wheels.

Is there a problem down the road in open science with "information overload", i.e., if everything from lab information on up is made public and each individual scientist is expected to track the work of others in their field in that kind of detail, will the work of scientists ultimately be slowed? Are there information filtering tools that you expect people would use in this case, or is each scientific community small enough that following each person's lab work and outputs is reasonable to expect?

Four points come to mind here:

  1. The collaborative knowledge structuring environments (think wiki, i.e. massive sets of articles interlinked according to thematic overlap) that I had pointed out as one of three essential elements of supporting open science will always be small in number compared to the current plethora of scientific journals that publish stand-alone articles, and the conversion of journal articles into contributions to such wiki-style environments will further reduce the  information overload with respect to the current situation, such that some important capacities (cf. slide 6) are freed to watch out for relevant information beyond the Publish step of the research cycle.
  2. The collaborative research environments that I had likewise recommended as one of the three essentials will naturally bundle activities in a given field, much like an encyclopedic article bundles relationships to neighbouring subjects. Also, the more information is openly available in open standard formats, the more it is possible to automate the information gathering.
  3. Both the collective research environments and the collective knowledge structuring environments dedicated to some subject will naturally bundle people according to their interests, which allows for social filtering of information. In addition to that, if one within a circle of collaborators comes across a new piece of information, they can put it in context, where everyone would be more likely to notice it than in any of the current social networks of stand-alone pieces of information.
  4. Doing science in the open does not only enable better collaboration between researchers but also allows to include the public in what has come to be known as Citizen science (examples).

Janet also asked how open science can help to discover unknown unknowns, to which the following may be the start of a reply:

  1. As long as people do their science in the open, they will receive comments from unexpected angles, which often open up unknown unknowns (let's abbreviate this UU, just for the fun of it).
  2. On the other hand, if you follow the open tracks of others, you will often come across UU in the form of a tool they tested, started to like, or abandoned, and can easily find out why and then decide whether this criterion holds for you too. Many of the web-based tools that researchers are now using on a daily basis are so recent that normal scientific papers discussing them will take some time to accumulate, and then they may well be outdated.
  3. These points are central to the reasons why social networking platforms for scientists should indeed not be restricted to scientists, and what made Friendfeed (which was not designed for scientists) useful to scientists.
  4. Many of these tools also have UU finding functionalities, e.g. wikis in terms of Special:Random and Special:RecentChanges, using which will almost certainly reveal some UU, at least if the size of the site passed a certain threshold.
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