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Where’s the CC in Science Commons?

July 10th, 2008

When I joined Science Commons last year, that was the question at the core of the queries I got from curious friends. In most cases, they “got” Creative Commons — it was about freeing culture with licenses for the legal sharing and remixing of creative works. Science Commons, they reasoned, must be about freeing science by creating special licenses for sharing and remixing scientific research.

We do work to “free” science — that is, to make it easier to legally share, integrate and remix research and data, with the goal of accelerating discovery. But you won’t find any specialized licenses at Science Commons. Indeed, when the goal is integration of open scientific databases published under different jurisdictions, we advise against using licenses of any kind, including the CC-BY license.

So what exactly is Science Commons doing, and where’s the CC in it? Glad you asked. Last month, Creative Commons held its first TechSummit, which was graciously hosted by Google. John Wilbanks, who leads Science Commons, gave a short talk on our work, showing what the CC methodology “looks like” in the world of science rather than culture. You can watch the presentation by clicking on part 1, below, which begins with the keynote address by Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito (the Science Commons talk is at 1:05/1:21.53).

Of course, there were lots of other interesting presentations at the TechSummit, which brought together folks from every corner of CC. You can check out the details at the Creative Commons blog, and watch parts 2, 3 and 4 on YouTube.

If you watch the Science Commons presentation and have questions about our mission, methodology or any of our projects, feel free to send us an email. We’re happy to provide more detailed information.

Collaborating for breakthroughs

July 4th, 2008

Over at the FasterCures blog, Margaret Anderson, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer, has a post on the recent Institute of Medicine forum: Breakthrough Business Models: Drug Development for Rare and Neglected Diseases and Individualized Therapies. Anderson, who moderated a panel at the forum, observes that while the Michael J. Fox Foundation is often cited as an example of what’s working well, surprisingly few research foundations embrace its innovative approaches. Key among them:  pursuing collaborations with for-profit companies.

The focus of the forum was on finding new models for drug development, and many speakers echoed Anderson in emphasizing the need for more public-private collaboration. Our own Kaitlin Thaney was there, and spoke with fellow participants about our newest project, the Health Commons. The project, launched in collaboration with CommerceNet, CollabRx and the Public Library of Science (PLoS), is designed specifically to lift barriers to collaborations among non-profit and for-profit entities.

“In the Health Commons, participants agree to share data, knowledge, materials and services under standard, pre-negotiated terms and conditions,” explains Thaney. “That way, resources can move smoothly among participants, without the legal wrangling and delays that can derail collaboration.”

One of the most troublesome areas, for foundations and companies alike, is materials transfer. On the panel that Anderson moderated, Michael Mowatt, who directs the Office of Technology Development at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, described how using standardized agreements and repositories can facilitate collaboration, and explained how our Biological Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA) project lays the groundwork for “virtual repositories” of biological materials.

You can find more information about the MTA project here. If you’d like to learn more about the Health Commons, you can check out the white paper or video introduction at the project site.  And if you’d like more details on the IOM forum, you can find the agenda and a collection of audio recordings and slides at the IOM forum website.

Update: Public Knowledge co-founder David Bollier has a post sharing his reflections on the Health Commons project:

For those of us who don’t venture into the laboratories of science, it’s difficult to appreciate how fragmented, proprietary and inefficient drug and disease research truly is. At a time when the Internet is making it easier than ever to share and collaborate, some of the most well-funded, high-tech scientific projects today still operate in their own isolated silos. They are effectively cut off from vast quantities of potentially useful research, scientific literature, emerging ideas and potential collaborators. […]
Tenenbaum and Wilbanks are two of the champions behind an ambitious new project, Health Commons, which aspires to build a new ecosystem for scientific research.

SCOAP3’s Jens Vigen: opening access on a global scale

June 30th, 2008

Among the biggest challenges for opening access to scientific research is developing sustainable ways to fund it. CERN‘s SCOAP3 has been a global trailblazer, setting up a system where funding bodies and libraries contribute to the consortium, which pays centrally for peer review. The INISTCNRS in France has a new interview with Jens Vigen, scientific information officer and director of the CERN library. Vigen explains how SCOAP3 came to be, discusses the principles behind the funding system and where the initiative is headed next.

Excerpt (from the Google English translation):

Three elements were important in [CERN launching SCOAP3]: our long tradition of [pre-print publishing], the fact that the Open Access movement among librarians [had] gained momentum since 2003 and the fact that some journals in particle physics models already offered free access long before the concept [was widely] accepted. CERN, which supported and supports these journals, decided to respond to this moment. A briefing was held in September 2005, with researchers to explain the movement and [raise] awareness, then a two-day seminar in late 2005, with those involved in science communication: publishers, funding agencies and researchers. Following this meeting, a task force was set up bringing together publishers, representatives of agencies and researchers. Their discussions led to the model of sponsorship.

In a few weeks, Science Commons will hold a free, open workshop featuring Vigen and others who are leading the charge for open access to scientific research. The workshop, held July 16-17 in conjunction with ESOF 2008 in Barcelona, Spain, is aimed at defining the foundational principles to foster the growth of open science worldwide. Vigen will talk about the state of open access in nations across the globe, as well as offering his perspective on strategies to take the OA movement to the next level.

If you plan to join us, we encourage you to register here. If you have questions, please let us know. We hope to see you there.

A new open access mandate at Stanford

June 28th, 2008

I’m late to the game on this, but can’t resist passing along the good news: the faculty at the Stanford University School of Education has reportedly voted to adopt an open access (OA) mandate.

Les Carr, who attended the conference where OA luminary John Willinsky shared the news, writes:  “[Willinsky] banged the drum for Open Access and announced an OA mandate for the Stanford School of Education. According to the story, he was describing the Harvard mandate to his colleagues in a meeting and they instantly voted to adopt a similar mandate themselves. Way to go!”

At Science Commons, we work to help scholars retain the rights to share their work, and to bring open access to more institutions [PDF], so it’s extremely encouraging to see faculty authors at Stanford not only embracing OA personally, but also working to implement it at the institutional level — changing the “default setting” for published research from closed to open.

Just in time for the Stanford announcement, C&RL News has published an article that puts the decision in a larger context. The piece, Two new policies widen the path to balanced copyright management: Developments on author rights. explores the implications of the NIH and Harvard mandates, and contains the following apropos observation:

Norms are always more difficult to change than technologies. We are now witnessing a key shift in norms for sharing scholarly work that promises a giant step forward in leveraging the potential of network technologies and digital scholarship to advance research, teaching, policy development, professional practice, and technology transfer.

Hear, hear. Kudos to the faculty at the Stanford School of Education for helping to make it happen.

Update (6/30): Open Access News has additional details.

GSK, caBIG give away cancer data to speed research

June 25th, 2008

It’s no secret that we’re fans of the National Cancer Institute’s caBIG, the Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid. So we were thrilled to learn that the organization, which connects more than 60 NCI centers with a common infrastructure, played a central role this past week in what Wired is calling a “Massive Cancer Information Giveaway.” The big prize, provided by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and shared freely with cancer researchers via caBIG’s platform:  genomic profiling data for over 300 cancer cell lines. The lines were derived from a wide variety of tumors, including breast, prostate, lung and ovarian cancers.

Why would a major pharmaceutical company give away information that its researchers painstakingly uncovered? Put simply, if the goal is to speed the translation of data into drugs, it helps significantly to have more researchers looking at the data and identifying leads.

“Cataloging this type of information in a network like caBIG leads to a ready-made body of biologic information that can be mined by all cancer researchers to further everyone’s understanding of cancer,” explains Dr. Richard Wooster, Director of Translational Medicine Oncology, Research & Development at GlaxoSmithKline, in the company’s media release.  “In turn, we hope this data will further drive the identification of predictive biomarkers and lead to shorter, more directed clinical trials allowing us to bring drugs more quickly to patients who need them.”

Any researcher is free to download the GSK cancer data through caArray. The caArray tool is free and open source.

Science Commons is a strong believer in the utility of a commons-based approach to drug discovery, and this afternoon, John Wilbanks will give a talk at caBIG to discuss how data sharing agreements can help simplify, standardize and automate sharing. We have begun to explore implementing tools such as the CC0 waiver and our machine-readable contracts for transferring materials at caBIG, and we look forward to deepening our involvement as its legal and technical infrastructure continues to take shape.

Update: For another perspective on the giveaway, check out GSK’s big bang on open drug discovery [Business Standard via Rediff News]: “Big pharma claims that it costs as much $1 billion to bring a new molecule to the market and 8-12 years to develop it. That’s something that few companies can afford anymore. For developing countries, too, [open source drug development] may prove to be the route of the future.”

Pubic domain + community norms = freedom to integrate science

June 23rd, 2008

In the current issue of the Journal of Science Communication, our own John Wilbanks has a note explaining why Science Commons believes that the best — perhaps the only — way to integrate and make use of the exponentially growing number of scientific databases on the global digital network is to mark them explicitly as part of the public domain. This counters the trend toward using “copyleft” licenses for databases, which, despite the good intentions behind it, threatens the usefulness of the data.

“The public domain for science should be the first choice if integration is our goal,” writes Wilbanks, “and there are other strategies that show potential to achieve the social goals embodied in many common-use licensing systems without the negative consequences of a copyright-based approach.”

To help people and organizations mark their data and databases as free to use without restriction, Creative Commons has developed the CC0 waiver, while the Open Data Commons offers the ODC-PDDL. Using either public domain waiver puts you in compliance with the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data.

You can read the full note at the JCOM site, along with two other relevant pieces by our colleagues in the community:

Poynder interviews Leslie Chan: minding the 10/90 gap

June 20th, 2008

Richard Poynder today published yet another remarkable — nay, superbinterview. This time, his subject is Leslie Chan, whom Poynder describes as the “unsung hero” of the open access (OA) movement. Chan works tirelessly to increase the visibility and impact of scientific research from developing countries — one way to bridge the “10/90” gap. What’s that, you ask?

Explains Poynder:

The 10/90 gap is the phenomenon in which 90% of the world’s R&D money is spent on the 10% of diseases that primarily affect people in developed countries, while only 10% is spent on diseases that mainly affect the 90% of people who live in the developing world. […]

Of course there is more than one reason for this dollar-spend inequity (including the fact that Western-based pharmaceutical companies know they cannot make a large profit from selling drugs to treat diseases primarily affecting poor people), but since much of the research into the neglected diseases is undertaken in developing countries themselves, and the findings published in local journals with limited circulations, the relative invisibility of that research makes it far harder to get funding.

And since research tends to be a cumulative process — in which researchers build on the work of previous research in order to arrive at new understandings, and eventual breakthroughs — the invisibility (and consequent shortfall in funding) of [developing countries] research inevitably lengthens the time before cures are developed for the neglected diseases.

Science Commons is working to make it faster, easier and more cost-efficient to find cures for neglected and orphan diseases. On July 16-17, we’re holding a workshop in Barcelona, Spain, in conjunction with the ESOF 2008 conference. The aim:  to define the basic principles that would enable the emergence of global, collaborative infrastructure for accelerating research. We’re honored to have Leslie Chan join us to talk about OASIS, a resource to provide practical steps for implementing OA.

If you’re interested in coming to the workshop, we invite you to register here (the meeting is free and open to the public, but seating is limited). We hope to see you there.

Berlin 6 conference: what’s next for open access

June 17th, 2008

Five years ago, the open access (OA) movement added the third “B” — Berlin — to the trio of international declarations supporting OA that now function collectively to define it. This fall, organizers will hold the fifth follow-up conference, Berlin 6, to explore how the movement is progressing and where it’s headed, with sessions on topics close to our hearts here at Science Commons: the convergence of publishing and research, the relationship between open access and open standards, the “next-generation” implications of the OA movement and more. Among the speakers are arXiv.org founder Paul Ginsparg, open access luminary John Willinsky and Tony Hey, who leads Microsoft’s efforts to build long-term public-private partnerships with global scientific and engineering communities. You can find additional details, including the conference program and registration information, on the conference site.

The Berlin 6 conference is one of many events in the coming year that focus on what’s next for the OA movement, including our own free workshop on open science, which takes place next month in conjunction with ESOF 2008. Check out the ever-expanding list at the Open Access Directory (OAD) wiki, and if you have an event coming up that investigates open access, please add yours.

Announcing the Health Commons

June 12th, 2008
People make chairs more productively, hamburgers more productively, cars more productively, everything else in the world except medicines. — Aled Edwards, Director and CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium (via CBC News Canada)

The drug discovery process is badly broken. Despite the scientific and technological advances that make genetic decoding commonplace, the time it takes to go from gene target to cure still stands at 17 years.

Science Commons’ mission is to speed the translation of basic research to useful discoveries, and we believe that a new approach is necessary to find more cures, faster. Today, we’re opening up the Health Commons, a project aimed at bringing the same efficiencies to human health that the network brought to commerce and culture.

The project, founded by Science Commons in collaboration with CommerceNet, CollabRx and the Public Library of Science (PLoS), is introduced in a 6-minute video presentation and white paper posted on the Science Commons website. The paper, Health Commons: Therapy Development in a Networked World [PDF], is co-authored by John Wilbanks, Vice President of Science at Creative Commons, and Marty Tenenbaum, an Internet commerce pioneer and founder of CommerceNet and CollabRx.

[Click below to watch the video presentation.]

“Biomedical knowledge is exploding, and yet the system to capture that knowledge and translate it into saving human lives still relies on an antiquated and risky strategy of focusing the vast resources of a few pharmaceutical companies on just a handful of disease targets,” explains Wilbanks in the project introduction.

The Health Commons proposes a different approach: enabling more companies, foundations, laboratories or even individuals to conduct research on disease targets efficiently, by providing better access to the resources that large pharmaceutical companies assemble and integrate “in house.” To do this, Health Commons will facilitate the emergence of a “virtual marketplace,” or ecosystem, through which participants can more easily access the data, knowledge, materials and services for accelerating research.

The components might include databases of the results of chemical assays, toxicity screens and clinical trials; libraries of drugs and chemical compounds; repositories of biological materials (tissue samples, cell lines, molecules); computational models predicting drug efficacies or side effects; and contract services for high-throughput genomics and proteomics, combinatorial drug screening, animal testing and biostatistics.

“The resources offered through the [Health] Commons might not necessarily be free, though many could be,” explains Wilbanks. “However, all would be available under standard pre-negotiated terms and conditions and with standardized data formats that eliminate the debilitating delays, legal wrangling and technical incompatibilities that frustrate scientific collaboration today.”

Science Commons welcomes your interest in the Health Commons. If you’d like to collaborate with us to accelerate drug discovery, we encourage you to contact us.

ESOF 2008 satellite event: Collaborating for the future of open science

June 4th, 2008

Momentum is building behind “open” approaches to scientific endeavor, which have tremendous potential for accelerating discovery by making research faster, easier and more efficient. These approaches are often collectively referred to as “open science,” but both the term and its underlying principles have yet to be defined by the global scientific community.

Science Commons works to connect and empower people and organizations developing open science in nations across the globe. This July, we are convening a free, open workshop in Barcelona, Spain, to discuss and define the basic principles for open science, including identifying the key tenets for a system to be recognized as an “open science” system. The goal is to conclude the workshop with a set of shared principles that can effectively guide the development of a collaborative infrastructure for knowledge sharing — one that increases the value of each independent contribution to the global knowledge commons.

The workshop, one of three satellite events preceding the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF), takes place July 16 -17, 2008, and will be held at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans. It will feature keynote presentations by James Boyle, Chairman of the Board at Creative Commons and a founder of Science Commons, and Mario Campolargo of the European Commission. Our co-sponsors are the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University (CSPD) and the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC).

Participants are already gearing up for the workshop. Ignasi Labastida i Juan, project lead for Creative Commons Spain and Catalonia, is a co-organizer, and in the current issue of IPR-Helpdesk Bulletin, he calls on universities across Europe to implement the European University Association’s (EUA) recommendations for opening access to the research that faculty produce — an effort that could prove to be a tipping point in transforming the way we share and build scientific knowledge.

For many years, scientists have done research, have written and have reviewed articles, and have paid for accessing journals without expecting any economic compensation because they only wanted attribution and reputation to following their career,” he writes. “This situation of publish or perish has been used by publishers to monopolize that knowledge, mainly created in universities and research centres, and they have used the copyright to lock it even forbidding reproductions on authors’ websites or authors’ institution portals. Fortunately things are changing.”

Hear, hear. If you’d like to join us for a discussion to establish a set of foundational principles that can foster the growth of open science worldwide, we invite you to check out the details and register here. The workshop is free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so if you are able to attend, we encourage you to register now.