About Science Commons

An Introduction to Science Commons by John Wilbanks and James Boyle, August 2006 [PDF]

the spirit of sharing

"Shortly after a large-scale clinical trial in 1955, the first inactivated polio vaccine was being injected into tens of millions of people around the world - possibly the most successful pharmaceutical product launch in history. Asked why he had not obtained a patent on the phenomenally successful vaccine, Jonas Salk reportedly replied, 'That would be like patenting the sun.' A few decades later, this view seemed laughably quaint."

Alan Dove, When science rides the MTA, J. Clin Invest. 110:425-427 (2002)

(For even more information on our history and organizational structure, click here.)

There are petabytes of research data being produced in laboratories around the world, but the best web search tools available can’t help us make sense of it. Why? Because more stands between basic research and meaningful discovery than the problem of search.

Many scientists today work in relative isolation, left to follow blind alleys and duplicate existing research. Data are fragmented — trapped behind firewalls, locked up by contracts or lost in databases that can’t be accessed or integrated. Materials are hard to get — universities are overwhelmed with transfer requests that ought to be routine, while grant cycles pass and windows of opportunity close. It’s not uncommon for research sponsors to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in critically important efforts like drug discovery, only to see them fail.

The consequences in many cases are no less than tragic. The time it takes to go from identifying a gene to developing a drug currently stands at 17 years — forever, for people suffering from disease.

Science Commons has three interlocking initiatives designed to accelerate the research cycle — the continuous production and reuse of knowledge that is at the heart of the scientific method. Together, they form the building blocks of a new collaborative infrastructure to make scientific discovery easier by design.

Making scientific research “re-useful” — We help people and organizations open and mark their research and data for reuse. We are also exploring new models for licensing patents and know how. Learn more.

Enabling “one-click” access to research materials — We help streamline the materials-transfer process so researchers can easily replicate, verify and extend research. Learn more.

Integrating fragmented information sources — We help researchers find, analyze and use data from disparate sources by marking and integrating the information with a common, computer-readable language. Learn more.

Science Commons in action
We implement three of these elements in the NeuroCommons, our “proof-of-concept” project within the field of neuroscience. The NeuroCommons is a beta open source knowledge management system for biomedical research that anyone can use, and anyone can build on.

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