Voices from the future of science: Lorrie LeJeune from OpenWetWare

June 3rd, 2008

In his trio of must-read essays on open science in 2006 (parts 1, 2, 3), cancer researcher Bill Hooker identifies open notebook science as his “personal favorite” expression of a broader movement that includes everything from publishing open access journals to developing common standards for data sharing. The reason? He believes it can help cultivate new cultural norms of openness, transparency and immediacy in the daily life of scientists.

So what exactly is open notebook science? Following in the tradition of preprint servers like arXiv.org but digging even more deeply into the roots of the research process, open notebook science is an effort to document and share science-as-it-happens: exploratory ideas, raw data, lab protocols and more. As the enthusiastic response to author Michael Nielson‘s recent post on sharing more “useful” knowledge shows, the practice is generating an enormous amount of excitement, as well as sparking questions about what’s next. How do we ensure that what we post online is truly “useful”? Can we publish in a way that optimally leverages the network and contributes more signal than noise?

To explore these questions and others for our series of posts on the future of science, I talked with Lorrie LeJeune of the OpenWetWare project. Launched in 2005 by members of the Endy and Knight labs here at MIT (and originally dubbed “Endypedia”), OpenWetWare provides resources to make research easier and encourage researchers to take a more open approach to science. Over the past three years, its wiki-powered site has become a hub for open research, and now serves a community of 4,100 users from research labs all over the world. LeJeune, whose remarkably diverse background includes work both as a molecular biologist and a marketing manager and editor at O’Reilly, joined the project in February as its new Managing Director.

First, can you tell me how you ended up at OpenWetWare? What drew you to the project?

The short answer is because I’m interested in science, open source, disruptive technology and publishing, and OpenWetWare allows me to explore all four areas simultaneously.

The longer answer is that I’ve spent my career following my interests. I have an undergraduate degree in Animal and Veterinary Sciences (specialty in dairy science and microbiology). I worked in biotech in the 1980s doing protein chemistry and yeast genetics. I spent the next fifteen years in publishing, working on digital publishing technologies at the MIT and University of Michigan presses, and as a marketing manager and editor atO’Reilly Media. After a four-year detour through the world of mobile telecommunications at Orange, I learned about OWW. And here I am.

OpenWetWare is generating a lot of interest in open research and especially in replicating the model across many different disciplines in science. Of course, in many cases, there are factors that discourage sharing pre-publication information. Would you say part of what OWW does is help demonstrate what can be shared, as well as the benefits of “baking in” sharing?

Yes, exactly. Many researchers are not opposed to sharing their work, and they do so regularly in the privacy of their labs and their departments. They generally draw the line at sharing with the world until the article is published, and they can get the attribution for the work. Attribution is the key to being successful in academia: getting tenure, getting the grant money, getting the grad students, etc. Most scientists have been taught that to talk about one’s work prematurely opens the door to “scooping,” or having your ideas stolen by another researcher, who will do the work and publish the results before you do and get what should have been your credit.

How does OWW combat that perception?

We make the argument that if you share your information publicly, it is in fact attributed to you, and if someone at some point in the future tries to present your work as theirs, you can point to a trail of content you posted. Granted, there are complexities–especially in the world of wikis where people can edit other people’s stuff. But if you post it, there’s a record that can be traced.

To paraphrase what we state on the OWW wiki, some users of OpenWetWare think that the best thing to happen would be if somebody “stole” your idea and finished the work before you. Then you could go work on another idea. Good researchers usually have more ideas than they have time to explore, and having more people exploring those ideas will in the end benefit your research. OpenWetWare’s mission is to make research better and lower the barriers to sharing. If we can facilitate exploration of more good ideas so that everybody is doing the best work possible, as quickly as possible, everyone wins.

Another reason to be open–especially if you’re working in a nascent field of study–is to bring attention to your work. One fact of life in “open science” discussions is that there are going to be people who think it doesn’t make sense in their (“very competitive”) field to be open about their work. However, there are many, many scientists whose principle problem isn’t being scooped–it’s that no one notices their work. This is especially true among younger scientists still making a name for themselves or folks in smaller fields.

I could argue that there is already significant incentive for young scientists to publicize what they are doing as openly and early as possible. This open group will either be scooped out of existence, or will be more successful thanks to all the unintended benefits of making its work accessible early. We really won’t know which it is, however, until we run the experiment.

All that said, we’ve had a lot of discussions here at OWW about sharing systems that take advantage of the collaborative power of wikis, but also bring in time-stamping, DOIs and other proofing systems that traditional publishing uses. I think the bottom line is if you can be credited with the idea or the experiment or the conclusion, you’d be willing to share it with more people, if not the world. And there are important advantages to sharing early-stage research more widely.

Once a member of your community has decided to publish information, does OWW encourage people to mark it with attribution and usage rights?

We’re still working out the best way to deal with that. The OWW site itself is under Creative Commons and GNU FDL licenses, but we are an early-stage project. Right now, technically speaking, we’re a wiki–with all the power and frailty that wikis have. We are looking at ways to incorporate an official form of time-stamping, using an outside validation body–sort of an online notarization process. And as I said, we are also looking at how to implement DOIs for documents.

Do you plan to explore a “best practices”-type approach–where you offer your community policy guidelines for publishing, as well as dealing with the legal issues surrounding sharing?

Yes, we will have to explore policy guidelines, especially to reassure people that they will be credited with what they publish. The legal issues also have the potential to loom large. Some industry folks may not use OWW because they’re concerned about patenting. On the other hand, many people don’t think about licensing or copyright at all before they publish. If we want to allow sharing of data, we need to make sure we’re using and communicating the right intellectual property and licensing information. Fortunately, our friends at Science Commons are willing to help us in that department!

In terms of developing guidelines for the community, I think we’ve gotten to the point of opening the door, but most researchers are still milling around at the threshold taking an occasional glance out. Not many people have actually stepped through. We (meaning the open research community) need to figure out the rules of engagement. Once we have even a few guidelines for sharing, I think the rate of openness in science will accelerate.

What can we do to spur more revolutions in the way we practice science? Or to put it another way, what can we learn from OWW? Did the project come about in part because the people behind it are relatively young and acclimated to sharing? Or is it that they practice in an area of science well-suited to sharing–a younger science?

Why is OWW happening? Two factors come to mind:

1.) Because it can. Tools for information sharing and social networking have evolved sufficiently to allow it to happen.

2.) The generation of graduate student researchers launching their professional lives now may be the first to have been raised “on the Web,” using Web-based tools. They’re very comfortable sharing their ideas and information in a public, online environment.

I think this is essentially true because it seems to be the more established researchers who worry more about sharing information on the Web. Science has always had a secretive side, and probably will continue to until the funding and tenure systems change. So some of the hesitancy could stem from having cut their scientific teeth in an era where having conversations with colleagues, giving presentations at conferences and publishing in print journals were the only “safe” ways to share ideas. In addition, many senior researchers simply don’t have the time to fool around with learning to edit wiki content. Graduate students have the time, the early training and the motivation to use whatever resources they can find to get their work done.

I agree that sharing is likely easier in some branches of science than others. In the newest branches, like synthetic biology, everyone is on the fringe. More people are struggling just to get their work noticed. And newer fields are smaller. People are more likely to know one another, which in turn makes sharing easier. If you know someone, even slightly, you’re much more inclined to enter into a collaboration with them, so you can move both your own and their work ahead faster.

Of course, even wiki- and Facebook-savvy scientists don’t share everything. They seem more willing to put protocols and other “safe” materials out in front of the public eye than they are unpublished research data.

So I think the upshot is that people are very interested in sharing, but exactly what and how much is shared is still very variable.

What are the projects at OWW that you’re most excited by?

There are lots of examples, like our new one-click open lab notebook, but I’m especially excited about a project Julius Lucks is pursuing. He’s a post-doc at Berkeley who’s interested in publishing, and has written and published on OWW a paper on using Python for science. When I asked Julius if he’d be willing to write a full-length “Scientific Programming with Python” book on OWW as an experiment in open-access writing, he jumped at the chance. He now has an outline and two co-authors, and we’ve launched the OWW Open Writing Initiative. Wikis are designed for collaborative writing and editing, and I look forward to learning how the process will work on OWW.

What’s next for OWW?

We’re exploring ways that OWW can help make research easier, faster and more open. To that end, we’re looking very closely at where the problems and opportunities are within the traditional cycle of research. What tools and services can OWW develop or foment to help researchers move, for example, more swiftly from literature search to experimentation at the bench? Or from collecting data to writing a paper about what that data signifies? We also hope to grease the research pathways by providing tutorials on tagging data so it’s easier to search, or on choosing a research project, or when to stop working on a project. By using Web-based resources to help research move faster and more smoothly, we believe that it can’t help but become more open.


Previous posts in this series:

Towards “research in a box”

May 13th, 2008

At Science Commons, we want to bring the same efficiency to scientific research that the Web brought to commerce. Our Materials Transfer Agreement project isn’t just about contracts — it’s about bringing together all the resources on the Web for finding and ordering materials and getting towards one-click access, with the goal of accelerating discovery.

Chris Kronenthal of the Coriell Institute for Medical Research has an article this week in Bio-IT World that explores the role of “biobanks” in scientific innovation, including a description of our MTA project that puts it in a broader context:

In [fostering growth], biorepositories will have two primary contributions. The first, likely industry changing, will be that of providing “research in a box.” Modern, matured biorepositories have come a long way in streamlining the many processes involved in R&D (materials processing, storage and management, consent management), allowing researchers to focus on tracking their own results. With solid platforms for distribution, like Coriell’s first-of-a-kind Google (“Mini”) driven eCommerce catalogue of specimens and data, researchers can quickly identify which subjects they are interested in, procure said samples, and download phenotypic, genotypic, and any other relevant knowledge pool data.

In an effort to spur progress by reducing the barriers on the distribution of materials for research, too often locked away in various biobanks, organizations such as Science Commons have recognized the need to standardize current hurdles such as locating specimens across various biobanks and the authorizing of material transfer agreements (or MTAs), thus providing a level of accessibility and fluidity to the normally snag-prone process. […]

[Science Commons VP] Wilbanks is clear on the pivotal role that biorepositories will play in furthering research and personalized medicine: “Right now, we’re stuck in a pre-industrial culture of tool making and transfer, where scientists have to beg labs to stop doing research and start making tools… It’s absurd that tool making is slowing down even a single experiment if there’s a way to avoid it. We have the tools, the technologies and the legal systems to bring all the benefits of eCommerce to biological tool making – it just takes the willpower of [donors] and universities – but the entire system rests on biobanks for fulfillment. Scientists don’t get grants for fulfilling orders for cells.”

You can read the entire piece here.

Update (May 14): Plausible Accuracy responds: “It’s amazing to me that it’s taken this long to sort of start generating significant interest in validated, standardized, open repositories.  The clones, cell lines, mice, etc that we generate in great quantities need a better method of sharing and distribution than some antiquated version of quid pro quo.”

How to free your facts

May 12th, 2008

With the open access movement surging — and the discussion surrounding open data gaining velocity — we’re getting more emails with questions about how best to share collections of factual data. One of the most common questions: How do I mark my data explicitly as “open access” and free for anyone to use?

In general, we encourage you to choose waivers, like the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (ODC-PDDL) or the Creative Commons CC0 waiver, rather than licenses, such as CC-BY, FDL or other licenses.

The issues surrounding how to treat factual data are complex. To help bring more clarity for those of you exploring your options, here’s a short overview of the reasons why we generally advise using waivers, prepared by Science Commons Counsel Thinh Nguyen.

Facts are (and should be) free
There is long tradition in science and law of recognizing basic facts and ideas as existing in the public domain of open discourse. At Science Commons we summarize that by saying “facts are free.”

Of course you can patent some ideas, but you can’t stop people from talking about or referring to them. In fact, the patent system was established to encourage public disclosure of facts and ideas, so that we can discuss them in the open. When Congress wrote the Copyright Act, it made sure to spell out that facts cannot be subject to copyright. “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” (Section 102(b) of the United States Copyright Act)

And there are good reasons for this. Imagine if you couldn’t reference physical constants — like the height of Mount Everest — without permission. Imagine you couldn’t use the laws of gravity to calculate without attributing Isaac Newton each time. Or if you had to get a license from the heirs of Charles Darwin to talk or write about evolution. Such a world would be absurd, and we can easily understand why. We all need access to a basic pool of ideas and concepts in order to have any kind of meaningful discourse. So copyright is supposed to protect creative expression–the unique and individual ways we express ourselves–but not the invariant concepts and ideas that we need to think and carry on a conversation.

Licensing facts can cause legal uncertainty and confusion
So why is it that increasingly, especially online, there is talk about licensing factual data–assertions of rights and obligations over assertions of facts? Part of the answer is that as facts get represented in formats that look more like computer code, the impulse is to treat it like any other computer code. And that means putting a license on it. Part of the answer is that the law is still struggling with how to treat databases, and in some countries, database rights have expanded (particularly in Europe under the database directive). Other countries have loosened copyright standards to allow purely factual databases to be protected. (For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see the Science Commons paper, Freedom to Research: Keeping Scientific Data Open, Accessible, and Interoperable [PDF].)

But even if you could find a legal angle from which to impose licensing or contractual controls over factual data, why would you want to? Doesn’t this just create the very absurdity that Congress and the scientific tradition have been able to avoid for many years?

Attribution for facts can add complexity and hamper reuse
Many people cite the desire to receive attribution. In scientific papers, we have a tradition of citing sources for facts and ideas. But those traditions evolved over hundreds of years. There’s a lot of discretion and judgment that goes into deciding whom to cite and when. At some point, you don’t need to cite Isaac Newton any more for the formula for gravity, or Darwin for the idea of evolution. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t need to, but that’s a matter of common sense. But what happens to common sense when you convert that requirement into a legal requirement? Can a license represent these complex norms and traditions? We don’t think so.

Imposing licensing on data creates all kinds of unanticipated problems. If you have a database with thousands or hundreds of thousands of pieces of facts, does each fact have to come with their own attribution and licensing data? How do we aggregate and recombine such data? If we use a tiny piece of that data to make an assertion about the world–to carry on a discourse–do you still have to attribute, and how far does that obligation go? In the future, will every database need its own database of attribution? Will every book need another book in which every word and idea and fact comes with its own genealogy detailing how it made its way through various databases, web sites and so on?

This problem, which we call “attribution stacking,” can saddle science with an unbearable administrative burden. It could shut down present and future sites that aggregate and federate data from many different sources. It could stifle entire fields of research that rely on summarizing, annotating, translating and integrating many different kinds and sources data.

The solution: use a waiver for factual data, not a license or contract
Can licensing facts create its own technological absurdities? We think it can, and it will unless we resist the impulse to license. We think the best answer is to go back to what scientists themselves have been doing for centuries: giving attribution without legal requirements. We think Congress got it right when it excluded facts and ideas from copyright protection. And we think it should stay that way, even when those facts happen to get incorporated into databases. That’s why we published the Science Commons Data Protocol and the accompanying FAQ.

We hope that if you are preparing to publish a compilation of factual data, you will choose to waive any rights to the data, whatever they may be.

Harvard Law School goes open access

May 8th, 2008

As a Berkman Center alum, I’m especially excited to share the news that the faculty of Harvard Law School has voted unanimously to implement an open access mandate (full text here).

The Berkman Center is the wellspring of Creative Commons, and here at Science Commons, we work to make legal scholarship open and accessible to all. The decision, which comes in the wake of the historic vote for open access by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, makes Harvard Law School the first law school to enact an open access mandate.

Here, a brief round-up of commentary:

Peter Suber, open access leader: “This is not only another university OA mandate, and the first for a law school, but another unanimous faculty vote for an OA mandate. The unanimous faculty support makes a very good development positively beautiful.

John Palfrey, the Berkman Center’s executive director and newly appointed Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School, who proposed the mandate to the faculty: “The acceptance of open access ensures that our faculty’s world-class scholarship is accessible today and into the future.”

Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library: “That such a renowned law school should support Open Access so resoundingly is a victory for the democratization of knowledge. Far from turning its back to the outside world, the HLS is sharing its intellectual wealth.”

Tim Armstrong, a former Berkman fellow and current Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law: “As John Willinsky has explained, open access is a force multiplier for scholarship: it correlates with increased influence (as measured by citations) and broader scholarly impact as compared with work published only in closed or proprietary fora.”

Gene Koo, a Berkman fellow and Director of Online Training at Legal Aid University: “[Legal] scholarship has the potential to leap forward by large bounds with policies like Harvard’s in place.”

We agree with David Weinberger: Yay! Congratulations to everyone involved.

National Cancer Institute to use Tranche Network to share data

May 2nd, 2008

The National Cancer Institute will soon be using Tranche to store and share mouse proteomic data from its Mouse Proteomic Technologies Initiative (MPTI). Tranche, a free and open source file sharing tool for scientific data, was one of the earliest testers of CC0. Many thanks to Tranche for providing us with such valuable early feedback on CC0.

From GenomeWeb News:

The MPTI collects tissue and serum measurements from mouse models of different types of cancers using analytical techniques such as mass spectrometry. Tranche researchers, along with University of Michigan researcher Philip Andrews, deposited nearly 1 terabyte of MPTI raw data into the Tranche network, where it can be shared between participating researchers.

The dataset is now being released in publicly accessible formats as well and is available to others in the research community. Because of the encryption used on the site, data on Tranche can be privately used by labs with access to the information until it is ready to be released to the public.

Congratulations to everyone over at Tranche and keep up the good work!

New consensus for defining open access

May 1st, 2008

Even among those who follow developments in the open access (OA) movement closely, there is sometimes confusion over definitions. Does open access publishing mean placing the work online without price barriers (for free) — or must you also remove permission barriers (for instance, by adopting a Creative Commons license that permits reuse without permission)?

Earlier this week, open access leader Peter Suber and “archivangelist” Stevan Harnad reached consensus on terms to describe these two forms of open access: “weak” OA (removing price barriers alone) and “strong” OA (removing price and permission barriers). Explains Suber:

There are two good reasons why our central term became ambiguous. Most of our success stories deliver OA in the first sense, while the major public statements from Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin (together, the BBB definition of OA) describe OA in the second sense. […]

We have agreed to use the term “weak OA” for the removal of price barriers alone and “strong OA” for the removal of both price and permission barriers. To me, the new terms are a distinct improvement upon the previous state of ambiguity because they label one of those species weak and the other strong. To Stevan, the new terms are an improvement because they make clear that weak OA is still a kind of OA.

On this new terminology, the BBB definition describes one kind of strong OA. A typical funder or university mandate provides weak OA. Many OA journals provide strong OA, but many others provide weak OA.

Forging agreement on the terms “weak” and “strong” OA is a promising development. Not only could it bring more clarity to the discussion about open access in the community, it could also help more people understand intuitively that there is a spectrum of openness, and choices you can make to maximize the value of that openness.

For further discussion, check out Why weakOA and strongOA are so important, What is strongOA? and Klaus Graf on what is strongOA over @ Peter Murray-Rust‘s blog.

Update (May 6): Stevan Harnad: “[We] are looking for a shorthand or stand-in for ‘price-barrier-free OA’ and ‘permission-barrier-free OA’ that will convey the distinction without any pejorative connotations for either form of OA.”

Peter Suber: “Stevan is right.  Last week we introduced terms (‘weak’ and ‘strong’ OA) to describe an important and widely recognized distinction.  But the terms were infelicitous and we’re still looking for better ones…The effort here is not to make any kind of policy recommendation, but simply to achieve new clarity in talking about different policy options.”

Rockefeller U. Press Uses CC Licenses to Reduce Permission Barriers

May 1st, 2008

Leading by example, the Rockefeller University Press has issued a bold challenge to other non-OA publishers to find new ways to strike a balance between sustainable publishing and advancing authors’ freedoms and the public interest. The Press adopted a new copyright policy that returns essential freedoms to authors and extends permissions to the public that are vital to advancing science. This new policy covers its journals, which include the prestigious Journal of Cell Biology, The Journal of Experimental Medicine and The Journal of General Physiology.

Under the policy, there are two license periods. An initial license, available during the first six month period after publication, permits sharing and reuse of the work, but prohibits distribution through mirror sites (whether commercial or non-commercial). After this six months, the Press grants the public a standard Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. These two licenses differ only in the mirroring prohibition clause — otherwise, the conditions are essentially similar.

The new policy covers all of the Press’s archives as well. This opens up a rich resource to text-mining and knowledge integration, using technologies such as our Neurocommons project. This allows the corpus of scientific knowledge to be upgraded to take advantage of the Web. That opportunity that been largely missed for vast tracts of the scientific literature, not due to lack of interest or technological means, but due to the lack of access and copyright permission.

The significance of this announcement lies not only in the importance of the journals involved, but also in demonstrating that we need not yield to the false dichotomy between sustainability and access. Finding ways to strike a reasonable balance requires forward-thinking leadership. By going beyond what the NIH Public Access Policy requires and using Creative Commons licenses to remove not only access but permission barriers, the Press is demonstrating that leadership and its commitment to the interests of the community that it serves.

Here’s an excerpt from the terrific editorial by Emma Hill, Executive Editor, The Journal of Cell Biology and Mike Rossner, Executive Editor, The Rockefeller University Press:

Preying on authors’ desire to publish, and thus their willingness to sign virtually any form placed in front of them, scientific publishers have traditionally required authors to sign over the copyright to their work before publication. […]

At The Rockefeller University Press, we have followed this tradition in the past and obtained copyright from authors as a condition of publication. Several years ago, however, we recognized that the advent of the internet had irrevocably changed the nature and mechanisms of knowledge distribution, and we returned some of those rights to authors. Since July 2000, we have allowed our authors to freely distribute their published work by posting the final, formatted PDF version on their own websites immediately after publication.

With the growing demand for public access to published data, we recently started depositing all of our content in PubMed Central. In a further step to enhance the utility of scientific content, we have now decided to return copyright to our authors. In return, however, we require authors to make their work available for reuse by the public. Instead of relinquishing copyright, our authors will now provide us with a license to publish their work. This license, however, places no restrictions on how authors can reuse their own work; we only require them to attribute the work to its original publication. Six months after publication, third parties (that is, anyone who is not an author) can use the material we publish under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0). […]

We are pleased to finally comply with the original spirit of copyright in our continuing effort to promote public access to the published biomedical literature.

A Wellcome future for science

April 28th, 2008

When he gives talks for research foundations about ways to spur innovation, John Wilbanks often shares the story of John Snow, the anesthesiologist who in the mid-1800s used maps to figure out how a series of cholera epidemics were spreading. By marking the precise locations where the outbreaks occurred, Snow was able to demonstrate that they clustered around water sources, showing that the “morbid poison” was spreading through tainted water.

What does this have to do with modern-day research foundations? If you envision research outcomes as pieces of a map — in biomedical research, a map of the human body — you can easily see the advantages of ensuring that when they are published, they are published openly. A single research paper may not hold the answer to stopping an epidemic or curing a disease; placed in context, however, it could make finding the solution trivial.

On that note, below is the first profile in our series on people and organizations working at the frontiers of open science: a look at the pioneering work of the UK-based Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Trust, a global leader among charity organizations, is working to keep the results of the research it funds “widely and freely available to all.” Importantly, it defines this freedom explicitly in terms that embrace the advantages that computers and network technology give us. The most recent update to its position statement on open access encourages — and in cases where it has paid an open access fee, requires — that funded research is licensed so that it can be “freely copied and re-used (for example for text and data-mining purposes), provided that such uses are fully attributed” (emphasis, mine). This might read as a minor parenthetical; in fact, the explicit freedom to use computer technology to derive value from the literature can help make the difference between having a map and continually, painstakingly redrawing it.

This is just one example of the smart choices the Wellcome Trust has been making to cultivate what it calls a “richer research culture.” Below is a brief overview of the Trust’s trail-blazing work over the past five years (with thanks to Peter Suber for his meticulous documentation of the work in the Timeline of the Open Access Movement):

  • 2003: The Wellcome Trust commissions a report asking how the economics of scientific publishing impact the long-term interests of the research community. The findings are released in tandem with a landmark position statement supporting open and unrestricted access to the published output of research. Writes Suber: “When a foundation awards a research grant, it is showing its belief that the results of that research will be useful to the wider world. With its commitment to open access, WT is showing its belief that open access to those research results will make them even more useful.”
  • 2004: The Trust announces its intention to establish a European PubMed Central, and to require that its grantees deposit an electronic copy of research publications in PubMed Central no later than six months after publication.
  • 2005: The Trust makes history by becoming the world’s first research funding agency to implement an open access mandate.
  • 2007: In January, the UK PubMed Central (UK PMC) is launched, a collaboration among of the Trust and nine other leading UK organizations. Wellcome Trust Director Mark Walport promises that the launch is “only the start” of an effort to develop the site as the resource of choice for the international biomedical research community. In the spring, the Trust signals its support for sharing preliminary research and findings, joining the British Library, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and Science Commons as a partner in Nature Precedings.
  • 2008: The UK PMC holds a workshop on further developing the site. Its workshop report [PDF] hints at future developments to enhance the usefulness of the literature; in a summary of a discussion about text mining, Dr. Sophia Ananiadou explains that semantic markup helps text mining tools work “optimally,” and would allow researchers to “use a simple natural language query that will retrieve specific facts matching that query, rather than just a set of whole documents to be read.”

The Trust shows no signs of stopping pushing the envelope, making strategy and policy decisions that reflect its ongoing commitment to maximizing the “downstream” impact of research.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Science Commons and SPARC release guide for creating open access policies at institutions

April 28th, 2008

Science Commons and SPARC today released a new guide for faculty who want to ensure open access to their work through their institution.

The how-to guide, Open Doors and Open Minds, is aimed at helping institutions adopt policies to increase the practical exposure to the scholarly works being produced, such as that adopted by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences in February. It provides information on copyright law, offers specific suggestions for licensing options and provides a ten-point list of actions people can take to craft and implement a policy that maximizes the impact of research.

From the SPARC media release:

“The Harvard policy is a recognition that the Internet creates opportunities to radically accelerate distribution and impact for scholarly works,” said John Wilbanks, Vice President of Science at Creative Commons. “As more universities move to increase the reach of their faculty’s work, it’s important that faculty members have a clear understanding of the key issues involved and the steps along the path that Harvard has trail-blazed. This paper is a foundational document for universities and faculty to use as they move into the new world of Open Access scholarly works.”

“Everyone – faculty, librarians, administrators, and other advocates – has the power to initiate change at their institution,” said Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC. “By championing an open access policy, helping to inform your colleagues about the benefits of a policy change, and identifying the best license and most effective path to adoption, it can be done.”

The guide is available both at the SPARC site and in the Science Commons Reading Room.

SPARC Europe and DOAJ launch the SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals

April 25th, 2008

SPARC Europe and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) have announced the launch of the SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals.

The seal is aimed at increasing the usefulness and “discoverability” of open access (OA) journals, clarifying the kinds of reuses that are allowed and using metadata to make the content easier to find. To qualify for the seal, a journal must use the Creative Commons By (CC-BY) license and provide metadata for all their articles to the DOAJ, which will then make the metadata OAI-compliant. From the media release:

“Legal certainty is essential to the emergence of an internet that supports research. The proliferation of license terms forces researchers to act like lawyers, and slows innovative educational and scientific uses of the scholarly canon,” said John Wilbanks, Executive Director of Science Commons. “Using a seal to reward the journals who choose to adopt policies that ensure users’ rights to innovate is a great idea. It builds on a culture of trust rather than a culture of control, and it will make it easy to find the open access journals with the best policies.”

Bravo to SPARC Europe and DOAJ for setting a standard that can help spur innovation by expanding the zones of legal certainty for research.

You can find additional notes and commentary by Peter Suber @ Open Access News.