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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Varmus on Open Science

Here is a candid little article from Wired on Harold Varmus and how Open Access in Biomedical research came about.

Free Radical
Harold Varmus won a Nobel Prize for changing how we think about cancer. Then he overhauled the NIH. Now he's battling to make all scientific research free and universally available.
Here is a quote about the original vision:
The conversation clicked with Varmus. Soon, he, Brown, Eisen, and David Lipman, an NIH colleague, drafted a proposal for “E-Biomed,” a public, one-stop repository of biomedical papers. Researchers could submit papers through a peer-review process similar to that used in the current journal system, or they could post work fresh out of the test tube.

I think that the part that we have yet to embrace is the posting of work fresh out of the test tube. As long as scientific research is published in an article format and its value is determined by a popularity contest of citations and peer-reviewed blessing, there will be little motivation to post work fresh out of the test tube. Especially when issues like competition and tenure are at stake.

The reality is that the impact of raw experimental data is usually unknowable at the time when it is generated. It may never be used by anyone (which is a guarantee if kept in a private lab notebook) or it may at some point answer a key question for an agent (human or otherwise) looking for a solution to an important problem.

My opinion at this point is that publishers or any kind of central repositories are not going to be as effective in communicating this kind of raw scientific data, unless it is readily available on the uberdatabases like Google or MSN. That's why Blogger makes an optimal vehicle to communicate raw experimental data: no cost, no gatekeeper and anyone looking on an uberdatabase will find your stuff.


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