Saturday, November 04, 2006

Copylefting Compounds

An interesting discussion about Open Source and Open Data in chemistry has popped up in the comments on a post on Egon's chem-bla-ics blog. It is important that we make our assumptions explicit when using these terms. Peter has taken the step of creating a Wikipedia entry for Open Data, providing a place for defining the terms we use. For example, I have added a detailed explanation of what I mean when using the term Open Notebook Science. When using the terms Open Source Science or Open Science in the past, I was pretty much using the definition I now use explicitly for ONS. It was confusing when people would use these terms but not provide any links to raw data.

In one of the comments, Peter notes:
In chemistry OD and OS (Bradley-like) overlap and are perhaps even synonymous. So in a sense Open Chemistry could be called simply OD. The added dimension in chemistry is the physical sample. Unfortunately the cost of transmission or replication is non-zero (unlike information and software). In some disciplines (e.g. microbiology) there is a real physical sharing of smaples (culture types). Does J-C have views on physical samples.

Although I have not really discussed physical samples in the context of ONS, under the description of our UsefulChem Molecules blog I state our policy:
We are happy to share compounds that we can spare, as long as their use is reported openly (including failed experiments)

This is similar to a copyleft policy, where creators agree to make their derivative works open as a condition of using documents and software. Of course in the case of physical samples there are costs associated with making the compounds and shipping but these are not excessive and we all stand to benefit if more researchers adopt this policy.

For those who don't wish to make their results public, we would consider selling some of our compounds to fund the lab. Some of these compounds are not commercially available yet and are useful for other applications. For example, DOPAL is an actively studied neurotoxin for dopaminergic cells.


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