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Monday, July 24, 2006

Can Open Source Science be too Open?

Pedro Beltrao brings up some good points on his post about re-thinking the scientific process. He proposes the use of black box modules as a way to make the scientific process partially more open:
Wouldn't it be great if we could find a way to make most of the scientific process public but at the same time guaranty some level of competition? What I think we could do would be to define steps in the process that we could say are independent, which can work as modules. Here I mean module in the sense of a black box with inputs and outputs that we wire together without caring too much on how the internals of the boxes work.

Although I don't agree that it is necessary to hide real-time information to be a productive scientist, I am glad to see that people are having this conversation. And the beauty of current web technologies is that each scientist can set up their own black boxes as they see fit.

We already see that with existing attempts - for example Nature Protocols discloses much more than a typical experimental section in an article, including troubleshooting tables. But we don't get to see the messy series of failed experiments that enabled those troubleshooting tables to be constructed.


  • Sorry for the confusion, by modules I did not mean to say that the information inside is hidden, just that to go from one step to the other we don't need to care too much about what is inside.
    For example, arxiv takes care of the storage of pre-print manuscripts. For the entities that will start the peer review process they don't need to care if the manuscript was deposited or not, they just try their best to certify the manuscript as a valid work. Separating these two steps of presenting a manuscript to the world from certifying we can try new ways of doing the certification. It is this separation , this modularity of the process that I am arguing for.
    I am fully supportive of having every step of the scientific process more open. My opinion is that although very few people will be interested in all the messy details it would be very useful for those that are.

    By Blogger Pedro Beltrão, at 11:18 AM  

  • Pedro - thanks for clarifying. Anything that makes the scientific process faster than the current all-or-nothing publication system we currently have is worth trying.

    By Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley, at 6:31 PM  

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