Archive for January 17th, 2012

What She Said

why i’m terrified (but excited) about science online 2012

All of the pre-#scio12 chatter has picked up in recent weeks, and now that we’re entering the final countdown, I’m (thankfully) recovered enough from a nasty respiratory infection to tune in again. The problem is that tuning in at all is like a highly addictive drug: I get a taste and I want more. You people are going to make me into a junkie.

I, too have been distracted by an illness (a nasty cold) and am just emerging to deal with all the last-minute details of going to ScienceOnline2012. I’m excited because last year was a lot of fun and this year promises even more. Last year pumped me up, blogging-enthusiasm-wise, and it lasted for a few months. So I’m looking for that same kind of score this year.

Because of my cold I don’t have posts in the queue yet, and I don’t expect to have a lot of free time, so things may go quiet.

Just Giving it Away

One the heels of my recent discussion of the value of information trading (as opposed to deception) to research, I read about a push for even more access to this information: Scientists, Share Secrets or Lose Funding: Stodden and Arbesman

Many people assume that scientists the world over freely exchange not only the results of their experiments but also the detailed data, statistical tools and computer instructions they employed to arrive at those results. This is the kind of information that other scientists need in order to replicate the studies. The truth is, open exchange of such information is not common, making verification of published findings all but impossible and creating a credibility crisis in computational science.

Inadequate sharing is common to all scientific domains that use computers in their research today (most of science), and it hampers transparency.
By making the underlying data and computer code conveniently available, scientists could open a new era of innovation and growth. In October, the White House released a memorandum titled “Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Businesses,” which outlines ways for federal funding agencies to improve the rate of technology transfer from government-financed laboratories to the private business sector.

I’m not a fan of this proposal.

The problem is, as I previously discussed, that the data and analysis techniques have value. They represent an investment in time a lab has made, and forcing that information to be given away means that any other lab can catch up in research, extract information from the data or apply the analysis tools to other data, all without a similar amount of investment.

The lab that did the work should get the credit for discovery, not only for the recognition and prestige but also to help in their competition for funding. Without overhauling the funding system, this proposal would be asking labs to handicap themselves in their quest for future funding.

Technology transfer is not that same thing as forced sharing of data and analysis tools, so I’m not sure what connection the authors were trying to make. The technology transfer they mention is from federal agencies to the private sector — this would apply to me, for example, if I helped discover or build something but our lab was not in a position to exploit the work, e.g. commercial development of a product, which is something that’s not part of our mission. But the government gets something back from that — it’s not just us giving it away to a business.