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Sharing is caring…and not sharing can be reprehensible

27 January 2008 10 Comments

Sometimes you read things that just make you angry. I’m not sure I can add much to this eloquent article written by Andrew Vickers in the New York Times (via Neil Saunders and the 23andme blog).

Shirley Wu has recently written on the fears and issues of being scooped and whether this is field dependent or not. Her discussion, and the NYT article seems to suggest that these fears are greatest in precisely those disciplines where sharing could lead to advances with direct implications for people, their survival, and their quality of life.

I, to be honest, have been getting more and more depressed about the fact that this keeps coming back as the focus of any discussion about Open Notebooks or Open Science. Why is the assumption that by sharing we are going to be cheated? Surely we should be debating about the balance between benefits and risks. And about how this compares to the balance of  benefits and risks in not being open. Particularly when those risks relate to people’s chance of survival.


  • This reminds me of the “grey goo” fear in nanotechnology.

    Nothing really gets accomplished in discussions so far removed from practical reality. I think the thing to do when asked to respond is to use examples of events that have actually happened. And there, Bora’s example of a blogger getting added as an author of a paper shows exactly the opposite behavior :)

  • This reminds me of the “grey goo” fear in nanotechnology.

    Nothing really gets accomplished in discussions so far removed from practical reality. I think the thing to do when asked to respond is to use examples of events that have actually happened. And there, Bora’s example of a blogger getting added as an author of a paper shows exactly the opposite behavior :)

  • I, too, was a little depressed by the impression that getting scooped figured more highly in people’s minds than the potential benefits. I don’t think any of the students in my program were necessarily worried about themselves, but were relating the attitudes and experiences of others they’d worked with. Forgive the blatant use of political propaganda here, but Open Science may need to employ a bit of “the politics of hope” in order to overcome a “climate of fear” (I am not endorsing any particular candidate in the US presidential race with this statement ;)).

    The point about life sciences and medicine having the most to gain but also harboring the most fear about open-ness is a very thought-provoking one. It’s very complicated because the reason they have the most to gain is inherently part of why credit and ownership is so important to the parties involved. Unfortunately, so much of what we do is tied to our funding sources, whether it be grant money, foundations, or commercial profit, and all of those currently insist on tangible results credited to you before they will renew the funding that keeps your research alive.

  • I, too, was a little depressed by the impression that getting scooped figured more highly in people’s minds than the potential benefits. I don’t think any of the students in my program were necessarily worried about themselves, but were relating the attitudes and experiences of others they’d worked with. Forgive the blatant use of political propaganda here, but Open Science may need to employ a bit of “the politics of hope” in order to overcome a “climate of fear” (I am not endorsing any particular candidate in the US presidential race with this statement ;)).

    The point about life sciences and medicine having the most to gain but also harboring the most fear about open-ness is a very thought-provoking one. It’s very complicated because the reason they have the most to gain is inherently part of why credit and ownership is so important to the parties involved. Unfortunately, so much of what we do is tied to our funding sources, whether it be grant money, foundations, or commercial profit, and all of those currently insist on tangible results credited to you before they will renew the funding that keeps your research alive.

  • I think Jean-Claude is right; as the evidence mounts up, eventually the culture will shift so that co-operation is seen as more productive (and so more valuable) than competition.

    What we should not do is expect evidence to win out in a reasonable time frame, despite the fact that we are dealing with people who are supposed to respond to evidence for a living. Scientists are little if any less prone to irrationality than any other group, and the evidence has to be overwhelming before they will relinquish a cherished idea or long-held fear.

    (I use the Simpy tag “oaos.examples” to keep track of such evidence, in case that is of use to anyone.)

  • I think Jean-Claude is right; as the evidence mounts up, eventually the culture will shift so that co-operation is seen as more productive (and so more valuable) than competition.

    What we should not do is expect evidence to win out in a reasonable time frame, despite the fact that we are dealing with people who are supposed to respond to evidence for a living. Scientists are little if any less prone to irrationality than any other group, and the evidence has to be overwhelming before they will relinquish a cherished idea or long-held fear.

    (I use the Simpy tag “oaos.examples” to keep track of such evidence, in case that is of use to anyone.)

  • When discussing open science I was pointed to mathematician Grigori Perelman (he was awarded Fields Medal), who published his findings in arXiv _only_. A paper based on his work appeared in peer-reviewed journal, but was retracted due to plagiarism charges.

    My feeling is, that also in life sciences community would react to majority of cheating attempts, if they would have have tools and some procedures to follow. What I mean by that, is the wide usage of preprint servers (I mean really wide), and some way to flag publication in a peer-reviewed journal as a subject for retraction (this is very important, convincing editor to retract publication from high-profile journal is almost impossible if the paper has false results, and really impossible if results are stolen). Actually I’m quite surprised that we are still pointing to the same example of blogger getting authorship over and over again. Don’t we have any more encouraging stories?

  • When discussing open science I was pointed to mathematician Grigori Perelman (he was awarded Fields Medal), who published his findings in arXiv _only_. A paper based on his work appeared in peer-reviewed journal, but was retracted due to plagiarism charges.

    My feeling is, that also in life sciences community would react to majority of cheating attempts, if they would have have tools and some procedures to follow. What I mean by that, is the wide usage of preprint servers (I mean really wide), and some way to flag publication in a peer-reviewed journal as a subject for retraction (this is very important, convincing editor to retract publication from high-profile journal is almost impossible if the paper has false results, and really impossible if results are stolen). Actually I’m quite surprised that we are still pointing to the same example of blogger getting authorship over and over again. Don’t we have any more encouraging stories?

  • you and your readers may be interested in an open access article in which I have listed all the pros and cons of data-sharing in biomedical academia as well as proposed a solution: Blood, Sweat and Grants: Honest Jim and the European Database Right. The url is http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/journals/gsp/docs/volume1number2/jbgspvol1no22005.pdf.
    It is also published as a chapter in my book: Blood, Genes & Data: Naturally Yours?

  • you and your readers may be interested in an open access article in which I have listed all the pros and cons of data-sharing in biomedical academia as well as proposed a solution: Blood, Sweat and Grants: Honest Jim and the European Database Right. The url is http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/journals/gsp/docs/volume1number2/jbgspvol1no22005.pdf.
    It is also published as a chapter in my book: Blood, Genes & Data: Naturally Yours?