From the Berkeley Open Science Summit

Science must be open and accessible, and knowledge diffusion should not be limited by patents and copyright. After the wave of legal, political and social clashes which shook science after the rise of intellectual property rights for scientific knowledge and data, science needs “a new contract with society”. This was the subtitle of the first edition of the Open Science Summit, a conference held at the University of California in Berkeley from July 29th to 31st. The OSS gathered scientists, researchers, social entrepreneurs, no-profits and science policy experts to discuss the strategies and possible evolutions of the open science movement.

But how do we define Open Science? According to Jason Hoyt of Mendeley, science is open when “it is available to any one in the world to do whatever they like with it”. Victoria Stodden tried to refine this position: “open code is as much an important part of this as much as open data”. Stodden proposal is related to reproducibility: a publishing standard which includes analytical tools, raw data and experimental protocols, giving any scientist the possibility of reproducing a colleague’s experiment. But, as Stodden put it, “we are not updating the social contract, what we’re doing is returning to the scientific method which has been around for hundreds of years. It is what a scientist is supposed to do”. Yet there is a cultural problem: “our adaptation to the technological tools for openness and sharing is not happening fast enough, and is bringing about a credibility crisis” of science.

Michael Neilsen, researcher and blogger, argued that we need “to create new ways for scientists to create reputation, based on new tools”, since the incentive system that drives the scientist’s work (to publish in peer reviewed journals) prevent the community from adopting new solutions. “today’s subsidies (to publish in a journal) prevent science from adopting new technologies and new solutions – scientists are provided incentives to reveal discoveries in older media. Therefore the first open science revolution (sharing results in journals) is now hindering the second open science revolution”. We need a new system which distributes benefits to those scientists who decide to openly share their knowledge and data.

According to Stodden, “younger scientists want to share everything. Older leaders must not just give examples, but also try to provide tools for them to be open”. This means that we need to forge new legal and societal tools for open science and to protect young researchers from the “existential crisis” they live when they switch from a world in which everything is shared, i.e. on social networks, to one in which knowledge is private or secret. In Berkeley interesting technological platforms for sharing were presented, such as BioTorrents, a distribute platform for sharing not only scientific articles but also results, methods, raw data and so on, or CoLab, a massive online cooperation platform which allows researchers to discuss a problem, design an experiment and collectively and continuously peer review the whole process.

Judging from the talks at OSS, there is a huge role for companies and social entrepreneurs. According to Stanford’s Drew Endy, “in 15 to 30 years something really interesting will develop between this two poles: FLOSS and synthetic biology”. Both companies and individuals will be able to make key innovation, outside the walls of universities. And in Berkeley there were lots of small companies, foundations, no-profits and start ups which use open source models of innovation. Will social entrepreneurship give us a cure for cancer or for neglected diseases, personal medicine and clean fuel? We don’t know, but there is at least one thing those actors are providing: a new, broader meaning of “open science”, which is not only the free circulation and sharing of information within the scientific community.

An important part of the open science movement is represented by people who innovate and conduct research outside the boundaries of science’s institutions. Their radical claim for openness and access to scientific knowledge and practices is heating up a debate on the boundaries of contemporary science and on citizen participation not only in decisional processes but also in the scientific enterprise itself. A few examples presented in Berkeley include DIYbio, the network of citizen biologists from wich projects such as OpenPCR and the community lab Biocurious are stemming; MyDaughtersDna, an open platform for the sharing of information about genetic patologies to researchers, phisicians and patients: the Pink Army Cooperative, a no-profit co-op which works on personalized medicine for cancer with an open source attitude – “the first DIY pharmaceutical company”.

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