Open science is opening the way we make science. It stands for transparency and public accessibility of scientific data, collaboration, methods and results. On the other hand, it supports the existence of public contribution to the current state of science, and giving it back to the public domain.
While we are making science, we rely on the older publications and methods those are often published with no open access to data. Years ago, academic community skeptically started to question the credibility of the research work on the existing literature. The way that science is funded was one of chief reasons behind this question. Science made with non-open data had possibility to be easily led by politics and other funding authority such as private companies to mislead the facts such as global warming or medical side-effects of a new medicine. Firing up an openness discussion led another ideas such as opening the methods and scientific source code.
Why to open data, open tools and open results?
One of the core values of science was being open and accessible. But ironically science is today receive heavy financial support from private institutions and governments where much of the budgets are shaped by economical, industrial or military needs. Scientific institutions are mostly closed to people without PhDs for scientist roles because there is already a huge competition among PhDs. Our credibility is measured by the number of papers published and number of citations we receive. I wouldn't want to slander scientists but professional science, as in its own closed ecosystem, has a few conflicts against the key foundations of science. Science's route, subject, people and results are controlled or may have possibility of being controlled by authority. In next few decades, we have to reissue the way we sustain science.
We also do have a verification problem with science that relies on data. Computational and statistical science is lacking in reproducing the final results advertised on publications. JASA (Journal of the American Statistical Association) reports that only 21% of the papers are being published with source open in 2011, still a positive number compared to 2006's 9%. Without code or data, even the work is published on an academic journal, there is no way to validate or iterate over the existing founding.
One of the key problems as we can address is that scientific research is not maintainable without economical sustainability due to the need of scientific tools. I've watched Eri Gentry, the founder of BioCurious, at OSCON last year. Her key points about opening the scientific tools, in the self-makers' vision was motivating. According to her, at some point at BioCurious, they needed to have a PCR machine that was costing several thousand dollars to keep their garage based research on. Since they can't afford the machine, they decided to analyze how they are actually working. Fortunately, they've figured out what it's about and created OpenPCR. And now you are able to copy some strawberry DNA sequence or make cancer research at home. An open repository of knowledge on making scientific tools will increase the level of collaboration from regular makers and DIY people who may never have chance to investigate or be able to reverse engineer these tools.
By the radical changes in means of communication, discovery and discussion will have to change radically as well. A few months ago, I've seen a book by Michael Nielsen called Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science on the new arrivals section. Nielsen opens the first chapter by a 2009 story about Tim Gowers' Polymath Project. Tim Gowers is a very notable mathematician, a Fields medalist from Cambridge University. In 2009, instead of working alone or with his existing pairs, he decided to discuss a mathematical problem on his blog and asked for readers to share their ideas online. In 6 weeks, he received 800 comments from 27 people. Although start has a its pitfalls, 37 days later Gowers announced they have not just solved his problem but the generalization of the polymaths problem including a special case.
And what about citizen science? Citizen science is used to be perceived as a more pro way of scientific crowd sourcing. But this perception seems to be changing. Very recently, I had a few discussions with friends who are totally aliens for citizen science and its current initiatives. They preliminary questioned the need of citizen scientists. Our main talk was about classification of galaxies on GalaxyZoo. GalaxyZoo is an online tool that shows you images of galaxies taken by Hubble telescope and wants you to manually choose if galaxy is elliptical or spiral or it has some set of features or not. Any programmer would initially ask why we are doing this classification manually in 2010s. Honestly, we have technology to pick up the features directly from signal without any observation from a human eye. So? But, discovery is not classification. We actually don't know what we are looking at. Any anomalies or any strange looking objects would be a new scientific discovery. By reviewing the existing images, GalaxyZoo members discovered a new type of galaxies, now we call them "pea galaxies" and Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch school teacher, discovered a green strange nebula-looking object in the size of the Milky Way Galaxy called Hanny's Voorwerp again in 2007.
So, why aren't we taking it any further? There is an ongoing afford to make a cultural shift to increase the awareness and participation into science. Not only Zooniverse projects but NASA has opened code.nasa.gov very recently. Ariel Waldman is keeping a dictionary of all citizen space exploration projects on spacehack.org for a while. LHC's ongoing CMS project donated data to Science Hack Day participants to let data hackers come up with data visualization tools for CMS. DIYgenomics are crowd sourcing genomic data. The list goes on...
With the ongoing momentum in scientific communities, in the next few decades, we'll experience a tremendous change in they way we make and participate in science. For now, not intercepting conventional means but creating possibilities, new science is approaching with the strong sympathy for making scientific results freely and universally accessible.