I have just come across a fantastic blog and a particularly insightful post by Michael Nielsen, an Australian physicist living in Canada who seems to have turned his mind to writing about science. The post is about how academic science needs to catch-up in disseminating information with new technologies.
These failures of science online are all examples where scientists show a surprising reluctance to share knowledge that could be useful to others. This is ironic, for the value of cultural openness was understood centuries ago by many of the founders of modern science; indeed, the journal system is perhaps the most open system for the transmission of knowledge that could be built with 17th century media. The adoption of the journal system was achieved by subsidizing scientists who published their discoveries in journals. This same subsidy now inhibits the adoption of more effective technologies, because it continues to incentivize scientists to share their work in conventional journals, and not in more modern media.
The situation is analogous to the government subsidies for corn-based ethanol in the United States. In the early days these seemed to many people to be a good idea, encouraging the use of what people hoped would be a more efficient fuel. But now we understand that there are more energy-efficient alternatives, such as grass-based cellulose ethanol. Unfortunately, the subsidies for corn-based ethanol are still in place, and now inhibit the adoption of the more efficient technologies.
We should aim to create an open scientific culture where as much information as possible is moved out of people’s heads and labs, onto the network, and into tools which can help us structure and filter the information. This means everything – data, scientific opinions, questions, ideas, folk knowledge, workflows, and everything else – the works. Information not on the network can’t do any good.
And there is a ton more. I commend this to everyone.