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A web without science …

September 4th, 2007 by Kaitlin Thaney

James Boyle‘s latest column in The Financial Times“The irony of a web without science” – examines how the  lessons learned from the world wide web can and should be applied to the sciences. From research funding to commercial publishing, Boyle posits that the capabilities made available through the advent of the Web and its design are not adequately being applied to scientific research.

Boyle writes:

“The greatest irony, though, is this. The world wide web was designed in a scientific laboratory to facilitate access to scientific knowledge. In every other area of life – commerce, social networking, pornography – it has been a smashing success. But in the world of science itself? With the virtues of an open web all around us, we have proceeded to build an endless set of walled gardens, something that looks a lot like Compuserv or Minitel and very little like a world wide web for science.”

The article notes a key element of Science Commons philosophy -  the almost-mythical “e-research” world, where collaboration is the norm and  we design our systems for the network. Meaningful e-research is going to require a fundamental redefinition of infrastructure. Infrastructure is more than just ethernet and fiberoptic cable. Content is part of the infrastructure, too, and likely the underlying ICT infrastructure content needs to be open by default and governed by open, standard protocols. We won’t get to the e-research future any other way.

Please see the Neurocommons pages for a sense of what an e-research project looks like. If only we had as much access to the literature online as we do to digital data …

You can read Boyle’s article in its entirety here. Boyle is a William Neal Reynolds professor at Duke Law School, and a co-founder of Science Commons. He also sits on the Creative Commons board.

5 Responses

  1. Science Commons news – A web without science … – Creative Commons, on September 4th, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    [...] the Science Commons blog … James Boyle’s latest column in The Financial Times – “The irony of a web [...]

  2. Web science « insequential, on September 5th, 2007 at 7:30 am

    [...] Via Science Commons; a FT columnist posits that the web isn’t being used enough by science. This is ironic [...]

  3. Aaron Green, on September 6th, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Access to historical scientific content is certainly a must for any form of “e-research” to prosper. However, this does not excuse scientists – most of whom have access to this content – from the current lack of scientific, internet-generated content on the web. In my understanding of copyright law (which I will admit, is meager) discussions concerning the contents of copyrighted scientific articles are considered a fair use of the material and are perfectly legal, even in an internet “published” domain such as a forum or a wiki.

    So what is holding people back? Are scientists – the type of people who created the internet – ignorant of it’s power to facilitate communication? I don’t think so. Rather, I think many scientists are afraid that their original ideas – part of what they get paid for – will not be credited in an environment where “publishing” has little perceived authority, and anonymity of the audience is the norm. Fix these two problems and I think “e-research” has a much better chance at realizing its potential.

  4. coturnix, on September 6th, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    You are, of course, right. It is interesting how Boyle lists all the problems and does not mention any solutions, many of which are already out there – people are actively doing stuff the new way. We invited him to the Science Blogging Conference where he can learn first-hand about all the nifty stuff scientists are doing online these days. I hope he comes.

  5. Accumulated stuff – World Class Ebooks, on April 3rd, 2008 at 12:38 am

    [...] * Essential reading if you care at all about science and progress is an article by Professor William Neal Reynolds in the Financial Times. (Link from the Creative Commons blog.) [...]