"Science 2.0" is good for all of us

"Science 2.0" is good for all of us

Summary: Scientific American is running an article on "Science 2.0," examining the such initiatives as MIT's OpenWetWare that allow researchers to post all results, successes, failures, etc.

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Scientific American is running an article on "Science 2.0," examining the such initiatives as MIT's OpenWetWare that allow researchers to post all results, successes, failures, etc., on the Web as they happen. This is in contrast to the nearly secretive nature in which research has been conducted before the advent of Wikis, blogs, and easy content management that allows researchers at all levels to share their findings both with peers and with larger communities.

While many researchers have resisted this movement (some, for example, who might be testing medications or treatments for disease have obvious financial incentives to keep results confidential), many are finding that this sort of openness actually improves the quality of their research.

“Science happens not just because of people doing experiments but because they’re discussing those experiments,” explains Christopher Surridge, managing editor of the Web-based journal Public Library of Science On-Line Edition (www.plosone.org). Critiquing, suggesting, sharing ideas and data—this communication is the heart of science, the most powerful tool ever invented for correcting errors, building on colleagues’ work and fashioning new knowledge. Although the classic peer-reviewed paper is important, says Surridge, who publishes a lot of them, “they’re effectively just snapshots of what the authors have done and thought at this moment in time. They are not collaborative beyond that, except for rudimentary mechanisms such as citations and letters to the editor.”

MIT's OpenWetWare, for example, has been particularly successful. Growing out of a simple wiki started by two graduate students to keep lab websites up to date, the website began to incorporate lab manuals, best practices, and how-tos. More importantly, as graduate students and researchers discovered new techniques in the labs, they posted them to the wiki, allowing their collaborators, as well as peers around the world, to benefit from their experience.

The NSF has now provided MIT with funding to develop a more generalizable version of OpenWetWare that could be applied at other universities.

OpenWetWare, and other efforts that exploit Web 2.0 technologies, are a significant boon to the entire scientific community. As the authors of the Scientific American article point out,

After all, since the time of Galileo and Newton, scientists have built up their knowledge about the world by “crowdsourcing” the contributions of many researchers and then refining that knowledge through open debate. “Web 2.0 fits so perfectly with the way science works. It’s not whether the transition will happen but how fast.”

Topics: CXO, Browser, Collaboration

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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3 comments
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  • Wish Science 2.0 was out earlier.

    The peer review process is no doubt an important part of scientific evolution. However, the pressure for publication and the bias towards positive results has hindered the efficient communication, especially on the side of negative result. What more troublesome is the trend that people just care about results being published period. And care less, if any, in the worst case, if there is any issue in getting the results. The society as a whole is trying to address the problem via training and emphasis on ethic education. However, it seems to be losing battle in the old system. Because there have been quite a portion of scientists who established themselves one way or another by taking advantage of the aforementioned bias, intentionally or not. In addition, there has been an tremendous waste in scientific community by people repeating same/similar task unsuccessfully due to the fact that failure stories are always behind the closed door--hence nobody can learn from the unsuccessful. With all the scientific information freely accessible like Science 2.0, people can easily evaluate/comments on/ works that has been done. People don't need to reinvent the wheel on their own. In addition, with the original data accessible to the community easily, the peer-review process can be enhanced. One sad-fact in current science is the lack of repeat of published work--which is the backbone of science. More and more people take what is published as true without questioning. Usually only the high fly research will get the scrutiny. Science 2.0 will surely ease the hurdle to critically evaluate the results in literature. However, there will be an explosion in terms of the information Science 2.0 will bring to life--I sure hope that is one of the outcome. Thus the data mining could in times hinder the initial intention. Yet, I would still rather have all the available data to dig through before I start a new task, than finding it out later after my own failed trial.
    uslee
  • RE: Open Notebook Science, a site.

    Drug companies are known to run 10 tests, use the three positive ones to take their drug to market, while ignoring the seven negative ones.

    Here's a site by some people working with "Open Notebook Science" (includes online presentations):

    http://drexel-coas-talks-mp3-podcast.blogspot.com/
    viztor
  • RE: Not so secretive science

    "This is in contrast to the nearly secretive nature in which research has been conducted before the advent of Wikis, blogs, and easy content management . . ."

    Not really. Most academic scientists are not secretive at all, and if you go to a conference, you'll see them performing the f2f equivalent of Science2.0 -- sharing techniques, results (positive & negative), etc.

    Until now, the means of publication hasn't been in their hands. And so, dissemination only happened at conferences and through printed journals. The web changes that. Which is good.
    ben.reynolds