Monday, February 08, 2010

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.

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At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Don Pellegrino said...

Now is a good time to consider both policy issues of Open Science and technology support for such efforts. The NSF Office of Cyberinfrastructure [] has a number of exciting projects underway. The practical technical problems that pop up when doing Open Science efforts would probably make for a good requirements list of new infrastructure technologies. A report from an "NSF Workshop on Knowledge Management & Visualization Tools in Support of Discovery []" describes some of the needs of researchers. It would be a useful exercise to add a list of needs that Open Science adds.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Priyan Weerappuli said...

In the spirit of the carrot (as opposed to the stick), we've developed an online microfinance platform to not only provide a funding incentive for researchers, but to provide the broader online community an opportunity to more directly interact with the research community.

The idea behind this platform is to allow researchers to upload project proposals and prospective budgets, and to then allow individuals around the world to contribute toward that budget in the form of microinvestments. When the aggregate investments have reached the budget requested by the researcher, the funds are transferred, and the researcher begins their work. What makes this platform unique, beyond its funding mechanism, is that researchers will then be encouraged to maintain a research log that will keep their investors up to date regarding their progress in real-time.

Ultimately, our goal is to cultivate a culture of creativity that encourages scientists to be more open in their research practices, and encourages the broader non-research community to become more involved in the research process.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Priyan - I am not able to click on any of the options from that page - is there a way to access the active research logs?

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Priyan Weerappuli said...

Jean - We actually just launched at the University of Michigan two weeks ago, and so don't have any active logs online. We expect to have our first logs up around late June/early July depending on how long it takes to fund each of the project proposals submitted.

Send me an email, and I'll make sure to contact you once the logs start coming online.

* In regard to the website, the icons along the left side of the homepage should take you to pages describing the research log, and microfinance platforms. If, for some reason, you're unable to click them, you can also click on the "Our Resources" option in the menu bar below the title header. The drop-down menu should allow you to visit each of these pages as well.


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