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Policy for open science – the wrap up session

17 July 2008 No Comment

Today Science Commons sponsored a meeting looking at the policy issues involved in Open Access and Open Science more widely. I blogged James Boyle’s keynote earlier and there was some notes along the way via Twitter. This is a set of notes from the last session of the meeting, a panel with Alexis-Michel Mugabushaka (European Science Foundation), Javier Hernandez-Ros (European Commission), Michael Carroll (University of Villanova, Creative Commons) and John Wilbanks (Science Commons). These notes were taken at speed and are my own record of what happened. They should not necessarily be taken as a transcript of what the panellists said and any inaccuracies are my own fault.

It is important to focus on the barriers to open science. Much has been said about ideals and beliefs but there remains a paucity of real evidence to support the assertions of the open science community. Changing policy, culture, and challenging entrenched positions, putting 50,000 jobs in the publishing industry at risk, requires strong evidence of benefits.  On top of this the consideration of efficiency both with respect to time and money. Details are important. What is data? What is meant by data sharing? Both from a legal and descriptive perspective.

Some issues looked at by the European Commission:

1) Who does what, how is this to be organised? At national, institutional, discpline, European, level? A mixture of top down and bottom up witll be required to make progress. Again efficient provision is required because uneceessary duplication wll be counterproductive and expensive.

2)  The legal issues, copright etc. The issue is not copyright per se but licensing and the power games associated with the ecomonic need of commercial entities. There is a need for a meaningful discussion across the stakeholders. 

3) Technical issues. The whole area is developing and it is not clear where the funding streams will continue as these become more embedded in general scientific practice.

The key issues are to bring everyone on board as part of the discussion. What is the contribution that publishers can make? View this from a positive angle, not a a combative angle.  What are the roles of the various stakeholders.

Things actually need to be done! Much talk about what should be done. Less on how to actually do it.

This meeting is a momentin time where the idea of Openness has become mainstream. The argument started on the fringe. There is a risk of over confidence in the arguments. The issue of evidence is an important one. Can ROI be actually shown? It is known that there are unexpected audiences for information from the web – new innovation will emerge but it is unclear how much or where it will come from.

In the short term there is still a fight but in the long term the world will change – as the next generation of scientists come through. But we don’t necessarily need or want to wait for them to arrive. We may want to ensure that some values from the previous generation of scientists are transmitted effectively. This moment in time is still transitional. Most of us were born into an analogue world but we still don’t think digitally. When people design initiatives and projects with the network in mind – rather than as an afterthought or add on – the efficiencies will be seen much more strongly. There is an argument that the EU model of funding and thinking can help to drive the network effects that will demonstrate the benefits more effectively than the US funding models. A missing part is the link to business models – what is the profit model for openness? Again, Google works (and is profitable).

The fight will go on – but thinking forward, how would we do work and plan for future projects built into the network.

The law as infrastructure. Creative Commons came out of the wish of lawyers to build a technical infrastructure that works for open networks. The legal issues of sharing data haven’t been discussed very much. How can a legal infrastructure be built to assist openness. This is the role of Creative/Science Commons. ‘No-one want to invite lawyers to the party’ but some of them really want to help it go off well!

The purpose of the meeting was to bring people together. There is a need for people to understand they are doing the same thing in different domains. It is difficult to fund the commons – but by brnging people together it is possible to build a social network that may assist in identifying funding options. Science funders don’t do policy, but policy people don’t fund science. A policy statement will be forthcoming in the future taking the current recommendations.

The benefits of the open web come from the explosion of people actually using a computer network. We must think of the users of an open architected science with the same potential for explosion. Can we make it possible to do science withouot being a) rich and b) a member of a closed guild. What would happen if 100 million people could ask scientific questions – even if relatively few of them were really smart questions.

The tower of babel is all over science but also all over computation. What we need is an institute of science langugages to standardise. A cancer marker with 94 synonyms would make Academic Francaise apoplectic. We are a long way from being able to solve either of these problems. How can the tools and standards be built.

We are the architects of Open. We need to link all the work that has been described in the meeting. We need an Open architecture to describe and deliver openness. The short term impact of technology is always over estimated but the long term is underestimated. We don’t have to worry too much about the long term impacr – we can just get on and do it.

‘In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is’ – lets just deploy and get on with it. Lets build the evidence and the tools and the standards that will take us forward.

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