Funding Agencies and Open Science
I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion on "New tools in research, teaching, and publishing" on May 24, 2010 at the annual PI meeting for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program at NSF. After speaking with program manager Vikram Jaswal, I feel encouraged that funding agencies are interested in exploring the emerging role of Open Science and related novel communication channels for facilitating scientific progress.
The role that funding agencies can play in Open Science has been the subject of some discussion in the blogosphere. One view is that they can require more openness as a condition of funding. The NIH's requirement to make papers resulting from funding Open Access after 12 months of publication is a step in that direction. There is a debate about whether this should be extended to Open Data - even to the point of Open Notebook Science, where even failed experiments would be shared for the scientific community to learn from.
I tend to prefer the carrot to the stick. I think that funding agencies could value plans for "sharing beyond the norms" in proposals without imposing strict requirements. In the long run OS will succeed because each stakeholder (researcher, funder, publisher, etc.) acts out of selfish motives. I believe that the most effective way to stimulate this selfishness is to show concrete examples of practice and benefits.
Funding agencies should see the benefits of OS as a higher ROI - in terms of knowledge gained and shared with the scientific community - as well as the wider population ultimately footing the bill. A perceived downside of higher transparency might be the greater difficulty in fueling hype cycles. Most things aren't as pretty up close and science is no exception. If you measure success as the absence of failure and ambiguity then increased transparency is going to be a problem. Most experiments are failures of some sort (as the saying goes - if you're not failing you're not trying hard enough). But failed or successful - both categories of results can be useful to others if they are made available in a way that they can be discovered easily. Funding agencies can help transparency by making it clear that the whole truth is more valuable than a subset of the truth presented in a way that might be conveniently misleading.
This doesn't mean that you can't put your best foot forward and give a slick PowerPoint presentation to guide your audience. It is ok to construct an easily digestible narrative of your research. It is ok to distill your work down to key conclusions. It isn't necessary to confuse your audience with every ambiguous result and unanswered question.
But - in addition to the streamlined version of your work - if you provide all the details of the failures and ambiguities for those who can benefit from further exploration of what you have done - there is a great potential for accelerating the scientific process. For a funding agency OS can mean a bigger bang for the buck.