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A public commitment to open science

July 28th, 2008 by dwentworth

Good design choices are the key to powerful network effects. And when the goal is accelerating scientific research, there may be no more powerful design element than institutional policy. By making the right policy choices, people at institutions can help usher in new norms for knowledge sharing — where research results are systematically “plugged into” the network, multiplying the opportunities for discovery.

Boston University’s Superfund Basic Research Program (BU SBRP) has embarked on just such an endeavor. The program, which works to uncover the effects of improperly managed hazardous waste on reproductive health, has published its own open science policy. The policy is a declaration of BU SBRP’s commitment to sharing research, and outlines the methods it uses to make the results freely available to anyone who can use them:

Our SBRP program holds the view that publicly supported scientific knowledge and tools produced by research programs like ours should be freely available and accessible. On this web site we have implemented our commitment to open science in different ways, including using new web-based technologies and alternative approaches to licensing work that make the vision of shared research possible. …

The use of open source wiki software encourages communication and collaboration on research, both externally with the public and internally within a research group. BU SBRP is developing an internal wiki for research collaborations.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allows subscribers to automatically see the latest products of research, including new publications, events, and research tools freely accessible through a web site.

Emerging permissionless licensing systems allow researchers to choose the terms under which they want to share their work; these include Creative Commons Licenses and the General Public License.

Finally, open access journals are those which make content available to everyone, without requiring a subscription. With the emergence of web-based publishing, this model can make research more easily available to more researchers in more locations. A list of open access journals can be found at DOAJ.

Acknowledging that the outputs of research “come in many forms,” the program uses these tools in many different ways:

Statistical techniques and computer code for modeling environmental exposures and health outcomes can be licensed through permissionless systems, written in open source languages and fully commented, and shared through a wiki. Laboratory methods and synthetic data created to test different techniques can also be shared, updated, modified by individual researchers or collaboratively, and discussed through wiki software. Published articles can be made accessible through Open Access on-line journals.

In publishing the policy, BU SBRP seeks not only to provide information about its approach, but also to develop a “compelling model” for other research programs dedicated to sharing “scientific findings, analytical tools, data, and research methods.”

It’s an extremely promising and worthwhile project. Kudos to BU SBRP for helping to define and propagate new norms for knowledge sharing that can foster the growth of open science.