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Pedro Beltrao writes on the backlash against open science

28 July 2008 4 Comments

Pedro has written a thoughtful post detailing arguments he has received against Open Practice in science. He makes a good point that as the ideas around Open Science spread there will inevitably be a backlash. Part of the response to this is to keep saying – as Pedro does and as Jean-Claude, Bill Hooker and others have said repeatedly that we are not forcing anyone to take this approach. Research funders, such as the BBSRC, may have data sharing policies that require some measure of openness but, at the end of the day, if they are paying they get to call the shots.

The other case to make is that this is a more efficient and effective way of doing science. There is a danger, particularly in the US, that open approaches get labelled as ‘socialist’ or something similar. PRISM and the ACS when attacking open access have used the term ‘socialized science’. This has a particular resonance in the US and, I think, is seen as a totally bizarre argument elsewhere in the world but that is not the point. The key point to make is that the case for Open Science is a pure market based argument. Reducing barriers for re-use, breaking out of walled gardens, adds value and makes the market more efficient not less. John Wilbanks has some great blog posts on this subject and an article in Nature Precedings which I highly recommend.

In the comments in Pedro’s post Michael Kuhn asks:

Hmm, just briefly some unbalanced thoughts (I don’t have time to offer more than the advocatus diaboli argument):

Open Science == Communism? I’m wondering if a competition of scientific theories is actually necessary to further science in a sound way. Just to draw the parallel, a lot of R&D in the private sector is done in parallel and in competition, with the result of increased productivity. On the other side, we’ve had things like Comecon and five-year plans to “order” the development and reduce competition, and the result was lower productivity.

I think it is important to counter this kind of argument (and I note that Michael is playing devil’s advocate here – albeit in latin) with arguments that use the economic benefits, and case studies, such as those used by James Boyle in his talk at the recent Science Commons run meeting in Barcelona (which I blogged about here), to show that there is a strong business case to be made. Openness may be more social but it isn’t in any sense socialist. In fact it drives us closer to a pure market than the current system in many way. The business of building value on open content has taken off on the web. Science can do the same and open approaches are more efficient.

Person Bill Hooker

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  • Also see Daniel Akst’s March 2008 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (yes, the WSJ), arguing that “barriers to the spread of information are bad for capitalism”. The original is still online. But if it disappears soon, see my blogged excerpt.

  • Also see Daniel Akst’s March 2008 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (yes, the WSJ), arguing that “barriers to the spread of information are bad for capitalism”. The original is still online. But if it disappears soon, see my blogged excerpt.

  • Peter, that’s a great article, thanks for the link. Going straight to bookmarks.

  • Peter, that’s a great article, thanks for the link. Going straight to bookmarks.