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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Where's the Open Science?

share Since there are clearly too many hours in the day and I have nothing to fill most of them, there's a faint possibility that I might become involved in some laboratory science in the mid-future. Of course, this is dependent on funding (sigh), but there is some seed corn money available, so it's not just a pipe dream.

Two weeks ago I had what I thought, at the time, was a barnstorming idea, but after a two hour brainstorming session on Friday, things don't look so clear any more. We do though have two ideas which seem highly feasible, plus a number of other fainter prospects. One problem to be overcome is that to make at least one of these projects viable, we would need to set up a strategic collaboration with someone who has expertise we lack. The reality is that to attract any funding, we also need to work collaboratively to overcome our lack of track record in the specific area we are trying to apply our existing expertise to.

Musing about this on Saturday, my thoughts turned to open science. I haven't discussed the prospect of running any projects in an open way with any colleagues or funders, and I suspect there would be major difficulties, but there's no harm in thinking about it at this stage.

My first port of call was OpenWetWare (information), but I couldn't see much there that we would be usefully able to contribute to in the foreseeable future. That set me thinking about open notebook science, but the list of "active" practitioners on the Wikipedia page is discouraging - not exactly a vibrant field. Of course, there may be many projects not listed there, but it's not exactly encouraging or likely to convince my colleagues. I wonder if the slightly disorganized field of biological experiments fits into the exemplary model of Jean-Claude Bradley's UsefulChem wiki? I'm hoping that someone leaves me a comment saying that there's lots of relevant open science projects I've missed. I wonder. Open science is an iterated prisoner's dilemma, which is a messy and unpredictable business. Too unpredictable for most people to try to build a career on. Thinking about strategies which are likely to be successful leads me towards the concept of an open science community rather than unilateral complete openness - a long term multiplayer collaboration. Does such a community already exist? If not, how do we build one?

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