Thursday, November 3, 2011

The inevitable spread of open science

Two things have happened this week that make me really happy about the research in our lab and the spread of open science.  First, we have a new undergraduate REU student, Alex Haddad, who has started her own open notebook science under the mentorship of Anthony Salvagno.  Her notebook is on and can be found here.  This is Alex's first experience in a research lab and she has immediately embraced open notebook science and she is excited about it.  One cool thing that I've noticed already is that her notebook entries are automatically linked in Anthony's notebook when she links to them.  Some kind of trackback thingy that I don't understand, but is great as far as good notebooks go.  An example can be found in Anthony's notebook entry, which automatically links to Alex's entry providing more information (see the trackback at the bottom of the page).  Welcome, Alex, to open notebook science!

The second thing that happened is that our former PhD student, Andy Maloney, just started a new postdoc at UT-Austin with Hugh Smyth.  This is going to be a very productive experience for both Andy and Hugh's lab, I am confident.  Most excitingly, though, is that Andy and Hugh have decided to incorporate open science into their projects!  I think this is very big news and a success for the spread of open science.  Major props to both Andy and Hugh for their willingness to carry out major parts of their research using open science!  I had some further thoughts on this and the implications for the spread of open science.  Instead of re-writing them, I'll just quote my comments on the FriendFeed thread:

I think big factors are Andy's commitment to open science and his new PI's commitment to making an impact in science and medicine.  I met Hugh Smyth a few times when he was at UNM and only detected awesomeness, both in his research and in his mentoring and concern for students.  Openness is probably going to be more challenging for them, though.  One reason is their research is much more applied and medical, and thus IP plays a major role.  The field is probably a lot more competitive.  And their lab is much more successful with funding.  As Nielsen and others have pointed out, the current reward system stacks the cards against openness.  So they will have to be careful.  But I think they're clever enough to figure out how to do it, and their success will pave a lot of roads for future openness.  I've been thinking about it pseudo-mathematically and I think the fact that they're even willing to try is a success.  I've had two PhD students graduate so far.  One is likely in industry for a long time and unlikely to be open for a long time if ever.  The other, Andy, is now at least partially doing open science.  The subsequent students in our lab (Anthony, Alex, Nadia, Pranav) are still performing open science.  A former intern, Diego Ramallo Pardo is in grad school at Stanford and has a passion for openness, but not able to be open yet.  Dozens of undergraduate lab students have performed open notebook science in my lab course, and there have been a few instances of continuing ONS after the course (most do not continue in research careers).  So, at first glance it appears that there isn't a high rate of spread of openness from our research and teaching labs.  But it occurs to me that it doesn't matter.  If we were to model openness as an infection, it's a powerful one.  I think it's even a latent infection in almost all scientists.  Participating in openness awakens the infection for life and it sheds constantly.  The immune reaction is our current system of practicing and rewarding science and it's quite powerful.  So it wins in a lot of cases.  Nevertheless, openness is slowly winning more often and the immune system is not going to adapt to get stronger.  On the contrary, the immune system is going to take major hits in the coming years.  Funding agencies are going to change rules.  Tenure and Promotion and hiring committees are going to add members who value openness.  Closed-access publishing for profit is going to topple precipitously.  And at that point, openness will spread and emerge naturally and quickly.  It seems plain as day to me.  Now, one of you all can translate that into epidemiological mathematics and fiddle with some exponents.


  1. This post made me think about a discussion I had with a friend about being open. I said to him "If you ask any scientist what they are studying, 99% of them will tell you with detail." I then asked how this is different than posting your research on the web? The only difference to me is that no one prompted a response from you. Of course, the fear is scooping, but the web is becoming more social and it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain anonymous on the web. You can't even leave a comment on a blog without having an email or an account somewhere. I think that right there shows that openness will evolve naturally. It's just going to be how we communicate (and in some cases we already do).

  2. Also I think it is worth mentioning that Alex's and Andy's notebooks have live feeds in my notebook's sidebar.

  3. That's great about the links, Ant. I could even see them on the mobile version (though at the bottom, not side w/ reformatting). And I fully agree that almost all scientists want to talk...and are frustrated often when they can't, do to risk to students'/postdocs' careers.

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