Un-cripple science with open access

Nieuws | de redactie
1 februari 2012 | Cameron Neylon, British biophysicist, open access proponent and speaker at the SURF Research Day, criticizes academic publishers for their corrupted business model. All data need to be available freely – especially ’negative data’ that contradict research findings.

“It’s dangerous, stupid and counterproductive to the publishersthemselves.” Cameron Neylon cannot abstain from cynicism when askedto comment on the recent law proposed to the U.S. Congress in orderto limit open access publishing of publicly funded research.

Cameron Neylon, who will be speaking at the SURF ResearchDay the 9th of February, is one of the editors of the openaccess academic journal PLoSONE which started in 2006. For him, this journal is “astep along the way” towards open science. “You have to take littlesteps to pull the community in the right direction, without leavingthem behind. PLoS ONE is one of those steps.”

Cameron Neylon is also part of a campaign opposing the recentlaw initiatives such as SOPA and the Research Work Act (RWA) aimed at limiting openscience.”The RWA is just barking mad. Traditional academicpublishing has corrupted its own business model. They crippled itand now you have to pay to uncripple it.”

Neylon argues that legislation prohibiting open accesspublishing is not in the interest of the traditional publishers.”It’s just an attempt to slow down the process. They deliberatelyattack it, which is really dumb. It’s dangerous, stupid andcounterproductive to the publishers themselves.”

What is needed: “lots of connections and transferring ofdata”

Quite early in his interdisciplinary research career inbiophysics, Neylon came to believe in the virtues of open sciences.His first contact with open access was still driven by the’classic’ academic interest of attracting research funding. “Acolleague came to me with a project on electronic lab notebooks onwhich we could get a large grant.”

These notebooks were aiming to provide a very flexible frameworkfor recording and analysing data. As he got more involved, Neylonbecame convinced that what was truly needed for scientific progresswas an open web for research data. “The key thing is that when youcreate networks, capacities can change. The most important is lotsof connections and the transferring of data as easy aspossible.”

The current way in which research is being done does not live upto what such an open network could offer. According to Neylon thisis damaging to the state of science. “There is a series of problemsin the current framework of science. At this moment the frameworkis based on data forming successful experiments while not showingfailed experiments.”

Lacking communication leading to wastedresources

“What has been missing all the time was information on whathadn’t worked,” Neylon explains. To illustrate this, he recallsbeing at a conference long time ago talking about a new techniquehe was developing. “When I was talking, there were two leadingscientists in front of me. You could see them shaking their headswhile I was talking. Afterwards, I found out I wasted £40.000developing something of which people already knew it didn’twork.”

It is this slow process of communication that can be solvedthrough developments in open science. “The capacity of a group ofresearchers can be at least 10 times faster and ten times better,using network based communication. And only if it were like 10%better and faster it would be a big financial gain forscience.”

Twisting the system of publishing

On this path towards open web, many steps are still to be taken.”PLoS ONE, I believe, will be on the lead of that.” Nevertheless,also in open access publishing the problem of obtaining all thedata with negative outcomes remains a problem. “It still costs thesame amount to publish, so it’s still hard to publish something forwhich you’re not going to get much credit.”

“We therefore have to find ways to make it much easier to bringalso negative data out there.” One of the initiatives to turnaround the cycle of publishing for the good is the recentlyreleased F1000 RESEARCH.

Neylon himself is on the advisory panel for this initiative. “Itis about just twisting the system in which you first need tworesearchers to review your work. It’s about yes, we’ll make itpublic, but no, we haven’t reviewed it yet.” This development willseriously influence the speed at which data and information can bemade public.

“The next step is that you just push out your data, put a littlewrapper around it and publish it online.” For Cameron Neylon, thatstep will also lead to the ‘negative data’ being available forevery scientist throughout the web. “But, we are not thereyet.”

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