The Future of IT and Science (1)
Motivation: Interesting tidbits on the future of science and the role IT will play in it.
Problem Motivation: Although interesting, the conclusions remain, sadly, the same: lack of incentives and lack of time are the bottlenecks to a more open scientific culture (using IT tools).
Results: This blog post will cover some of those aspects from other blogs. The next blog post focuses more on my own insights and the necessity of (new) tools/ideas in line with the significance of the bottlenecks of scientific progress.
So over at “A Blog Around The Clock” I found a post that links to a blog post titled ‘The Future of Science’ by Michael Nielsen.
“And you thought it was a good idea to rip off the title. Nice.”
It is quite an interesting read. To summarize, the blog post reconfirmed that a lack of time and a lack of incentives are the main culprits as to why scholars are not achieving “extreme openness” in science. Which is, depending on your perspective, what is needed. After all, it provides scholars the opportunity to obtain and use all the existing information they want. And that generally leads to quicker and better research (results) because there is more data to support the scholars with their research. And that means progress for humankind, which normally makes us all very happy. Unfortunately, the post reconfirms that there are currently no (practical) solutions for these issues yet. According to Michael Nielsen, the “practical” solutions for this issue, if any, will likely consist of both the qualitative (IT) tools (bottom-up strategy) and the cultural support (top- down strategy) of the scientific community to acknowledge these tools as an incentive for scholars to utilize them (and share their data with them).
By the way, I think David Crotty does a fine job diluting some of the enthusiasm present in that blog post concerning ideas to change this and keeping it more grounded. For more on that, also see this blog post by shwu titled ‘The future of science, gradical change, and tools for the people’. I think it is a good reality check on the issues of “sharing” and why “extreme openness of science” may not stimulate a lot of scholars supporting this particular movement. In short: it simply is at odds with the need to “stand out”, e.g. make your own discoveries and publish your own papers, to have a shot at the limited resources, e.g. grants and lab space, that scholars desperately need to advance (their) scientific research and their scientific careers.
Not surprisingly, scholars doing their part for scientific progress and being accredited for it almost always beats scholars doing their part for scientific progress without being accredited for it. When push comes to shove, there is only so much a scholar can do unaccredited before they have to go back to doing stuff for which they are accredited for. It is not about being greedy necessarily, it is just the nature of the beast. Scholars are required to stand out and do something that enables them to acquire the necessary but limited amount of resources for their research. Kind of like Open Source developers: programming stuff free of charge is good, but they eventually have to go back to their real programming jobs to get paid before they can spend time on Open Source projects again. OK, there are some Open Source projects that can pay the bills, but most of them do not and are “just” hobby projects done while they are not out there working for a salary.
Actually, most scholars already do both types (accredited and unaccredited) of work. You see, peer reviewing is generally considered an unselfish act to help out the scientific community, and it is of immense value for certifying scientific knowledge. Well, this is more like nitpicking, but the part about it being unselfish is not entirely true. There are actually some personal advantages to peer review for journals, with networking (journal publishers/ editors) being one of them. However, that way of networking is so ineffective compared to authoring a published paper that most scholars do not consider it a practical incentive. I would add a third point, but I think the message is rather clear: accreditation is necessary!
“That was already obvious from the posts you sourced…”
Cameron Neylon over at Science in the open also takes a shot at it. He also concludes that:
The incentive structure remains broken – this is not a new thing – but if sufficiently high profile people start to say this should change, and act on those beliefs, and they are, then things will start to shift. It will be slow but bit by bit we can imagine getting there.
As for ideas to tackle these issues, he suggests financial compensation and/or ‘something to point to as recognition of their contribution.’ I am not so sure about the money thing. The thing about limited resources is that they hardly ever scale well. Eventually, it will be like participating in a lottery, where good or even great work is still unrewarded because there are so many participants, but only so many worthwhile prizes to win. In the long run, and after it grows in popularity, it will present the same funding issues as the ones we have now. On the other hand, the point is once again confirmed that there is a need for an established accreditation system, recognized by scholarly institutions that provide for said finances and prestige. How to develop and implement something that will get all of these scholarly institutions to acknowledge it as something valuable is the question, though. Anyway, it is a rather lengthy blog post, so I might not do it justice with just this one paragraph. Go read it yourself to get the full gist of it.
“Not to mention that this blog post is getting a bit long already. So keeping the musings of others short is a good idea.”
Saving the rest (and the best?) for a later blog post then. Stay Tuned!