Many people predict that the open science movement could be every bit as far-reaching to the future of humanity as the scientific method, first articulated by Roger Bacon in the 13th century.
That raises a question: What is open science?
Open science can be interpreted in several ways, but it essentially can be described as an effort to make scientific research more open, more public. Open-science proponents argue that the Internet has made this possible. As a matter of fact, many of them contend that the old, traditional approaches to scientific inquiry and discovery are antiquated and even hinder the advance of science.
Likewise, many supporters of open science contend that the lowered transaction costs that have accompanied Web 2.0 have rendered scientific research far less expensive. The huge corporate and government-funded laboratories that were once required to secure major breakthroughs, such as vacuum tubes and the atom bomb, are no longer as essential in many cases.
Opening up research, making it as available for input from as many players as possible would not only speed up scientific inquiry and discovery, but would also render it far more efficient.
The idea essentially began with famed Cambridge University mathematician Timothy Gowers. Gowers (pictured right) got the idea to solve a handful of highly complex mathematical problems by posting them to his Weblog and inviting people to offer suggestions for solving them. He dubbed it the Polymath Project and initially had no idea how far-reaching this effort would turn out to be. In fact, it ended up producing a series of new ideas and insights as well as several collaborative papers published under the pseudonym DHJ Polymath.
In one respect, the Polymath Project is not new. It’s already been foreshadowed in other areas of science, including The Human Genome Project, the pioneering effort to map and share DNA.
It also parallels much of what already is unfolding within the computer software industry.
Science, it seems, is proving no more immune to the effects of Web 2.0 than any other facet of modern life.
The economic downtown has contributed too. Open science may prove a cost-effective alternative as governments around the world slash conventional research funding, proponents contend.
It may be instructive to look at the Innocentive website to see how one organization is using the concept of challenge prizes and crowdsourcing to allow companies to solve their most difficult problems. Innocentive has had more than 31,000 solutions submitted, of which, more than 1,200 were accepted and awarded prize money, ranging from $1,500 to $1 million, from the sponsoring agency. They tout a success rate of 57% for solving the submitted problems (source). By bringing different perspectives and experiences to a challenge, solvers are able to come up with innovative solutions that are often not apparent to the teams of experts already working on a problem.
To be sure, open science has garnered its share of critics. Many of them argue that genuine scientific achievement is not possible without traditional research methods, which often require immense investments of time and manpower. Likewise, hundreds of years of experience have underscored the importance of sharing and refining these research findings among scientific peers, typically within accredited scientific journals.
For their part, many open-science advocates concede that there will still be a place for more rigorous research methods. On the other hand, they stress that some of the greatest scientific and technological strides in human history have been made by unconventional individuals, often employing unconventional methods. Examples of some of history’s most notable and unconventional scientific and technological innovators include Robert Hooke, Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin.
Author: Jim Langcuster (@extensionguy)
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