Open research

I’ve been thinking about the concept of open research since listening to Jon Udell’s interview with Jean-Claude Bradley on his open notebook science project.  The idea is similar to the open approach to writing software in that the process is transparent and open to scrutiny by anyone.  This could have important implications for the soundness of the methodology behind the research, the distribution of results and the potential for massive collaboration on research projects.

Open research makes use of social tools like wikis (wikiresearch), blogs, Google Docs and social networks of like-minded individuals, that allow for collaboration, rapid publication and increased access to information for anyone with an internet connection.  There is also the suggestion that openness in research could lead to more innovation by stimulating ideas that allow others to make contributions to the body of knowledge that may not have been the original intent of the researcher.

However, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of conducting research in an open environment, that is subject to scrutiny by everyone and largely against the culture of secrecy in scientific research.  There are definitely issues with the process and one example of how conflict could arise is by publishing primary data openly.  This has the obvious benefit in that anyone could take that information and use it in ways not intended by the researcher, taking data that may have never seen the light of day and creating new knowledge.  The downside is that someone else could beat you to the finish line by publishing your results and negating your work.

There are other approaches that aren’t as “open” as publishing everything concerned with the project.  For example, you could choose to publish only your methodology or ideas around where the project is headed and request input around that, or raw data could be summarised before publishing online.  Other, similar fields are also becoming more mainstream, like open peer review, in which the peer review process of publication is made public, and open notebook science.

What will the world be like when all knowledge is freely available?