The Future of Scientific Research

There’s a fascinating set of articles in Nature this week on openness, sharing, and new publication models. From “Science in the web age: Joint efforts:”

“Science is too hung up on the notion of ‘the paper’ as the exclusive means of scientific communication,” says Leigh Dodds, a web expert at the publisher Ingenta. Publication and research assessments are more geared to measuring a researcher’s standing than communicating science, he claims.

Jennifer Hallinan, a biologist at the University of Queensland, Australia, who runs the blog Cancer Dynamics, agrees with him. The web is providing a hierarchy of sources, she says, including useful blogs and wikis. “Each level of the hierarchy has its own sources of error, its own strengths and weaknesses,” she explains, “but these are known and can be taken into account when using them.”

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“Put a description of your paper on a weblog, though, and something very different happens,” says Myers. “People who are very far afield from your usual circle start thinking about the subject. They bring up interesting perspectives.” By sharing ideas online, you get feedback and new research ideas, he says.

Also, don’t miss “Let data speak to data:”

Such services will also require new thinking on open data. Web services are dependent on computers being able to freely access data in real time. Although GenBank and many large databases allow unhindered access to their data, many research organizations still cling to obsolete manual data permission policies, which prevent their data being used by web services.

Scientists may be justified in retaining privileged access to data that they have invested heavily in collecting, pending publication — but there are also huge amounts of data that do not need to be kept behind walls.

Data that’s kept behind walls is not only offensive to the taxpayers who paid for it, it inhibits the scientific process. No one ever said “If I have seen further, it is because I stand on the parapet of a paywall.”

It’s certainly useful to checkpoint research, collect it into a polished form, and make it available. There’s also a great deal of research that would work well as blog entries. In particular, I’m thinking of a subset of “I broke your cryptosystem” papers where the attack is fairly obvious. The attackers are required to write a full paper to get the “full paper” credit in looking for tenure, but oftentimes, good results must be stretched to make a full paper happen. A richer ecology of forms of dissemination will enhance a great many pursuits, including scientific research.

(Via Paul Kedrosky, “Science, Nature, and Blogs.”)