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Why Open Science/Research Won’t Work, at Least for Now, a Story From FriendFeed

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So, we’re back! And to the old-new story of why the Open Science movement will fail, at least for now. I was planning to post something on a different note, but a recent discussion thread on FriendFeed called me to post about it.

This thread was started by a blog entry the poster-boy of the Open Science/Research/Buzz-Word-of-the-moment Movement, Cameron Neylon.

As most of the “literature” you find in his blog, very well written, he uses a metaphor of some mundane human social behaviour/activity trying to captivate the reader and bring him to his “open” universe. Sometimes it’s related to a train commute, sometimes a music or a scientific article. When the the reader is inside his web, BANG! comes the open science mantra, that we have to be open, that we have to prevent the existence of a walled-garden of discussions, that we have to open everyuthing, make it more accessible, etc. At this point, you, the reader, are willing to sell your house or your first born and donate all the money to the Open Science/Research/Buzz-Word-of-the-moment and do whatever he proposes to open more Science and the discussion around science topics.

But, oops!, there’s a problem, and a big one: there is no proposition, no alternative on how we put down the so-called walled-garden of FriendFeed-limited discussions. What more openness does he need? What is the alternative of posting a comment to his blog, which is somewhat mirrored on FriendFeed? One just need and email and a password to join the discussion on FF, basically the same number of clicks to post a comment on his blog. Both services are indexed in Google, and saved somewhere for posterity. There are some aspects that might prevent someone of participating in the discussion, like not wanting to or not knowing the services.

This line of thinking, where one person uses more than two paragraphs to show how every one else is wrong, but the ingroup, and at the same time no concrete (even imaginary) alternative is proposed resembles the same tactics used by the hard-core cladists. For them, ClustalW is a product of the devil, Maximum Likelihood should not be taught in universities and Apple is the cult of the beast. In the end the hard-core cladists were shunned in a corner and had their research (or at least part of it) tagged with cult status, at least in the scientific circle I exist. (If you are a soft-core cladist, I embrace you).

In one way or another that’s what will happen to the Open Science/Research/Buzz-Word-of-the-moment Movement, if they keep on producing the same shallow rhetoric and proposing the same weightless, empty, nonexistent alternatives. Serious people that don’t know about their proposition, one day will notice that in the end they don’t do nothing at all, much less propose anything that can minimally change the future of scientific research.

And before you beat me and say that I also don’t propose anything different, you’re definitely right. But I never announced any intention on doing so, I’m just a scientist with an opinion. And opinions in our era are free.

Follow the discussion on FF.

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