Empower Better Science

There are many reasons to strive for more permissive sharing of information in science. For me, the main reasons highlight that science isn’t just about yourself but about the greater goal of solving our global (and local!) problems and questions. Permissive sharing facilitates creation of new information, permissive sharing is a first step towards radically including all humans into science, and permissive sharing empowers criticism in science.

Anyone who has conducted or read research knows how long reference lists can get — selective access to these resources will color any new knowledge created on top of it. These individual building blocks can be recombined to create something new, which subsequently could be used to build something new again (and so on). If artificial restrictions are imposed early on, it will create a large divergence in combinations of these building blocks down the line. Recognizing that the chain of events is important and not only the outcome shows that permissive sharing is crucial to facilitating knowledge creation.

Selective access to research facilitates systematic discrimination of something that is indiscrimate by itself: ideas. Permissive sharing of what ideas are created across the globe also allows us to move beyond national identity conflicts. Discriminating who has access to knowledge and who does not is unacceptable if we want to reliably learn about the world around us and solve the problems we face. Either we solve the problems for everyone, or for no one.

Criticism in science currently is still reserved for the people with authority. Scientists are deemed to be highly rational and objective (even more so than most other professions), but in reality this is not the case. Scientists are being rewarded in such a way that it feeds into narcissistic tendencies of grandeur that promote irrational and subjective behavior. For example, publish more results and you are more likely to become a professor, with its attached authority. If the quality of those results decreases as a result of this incentive, few seem to actively care.

As a result, criticism amongst peers is being reprimanded instead of rewarded. When I undertook a project providing basic statistical feedback on 50,000 papers, some thought I was accusing them of fraudulent behavior (despite that previous research indicated 1/8 papers might benefit substantially from such feedback). If mere feedback is already taken as an afront to a researcher’s integrity, I think science has lost its capability of reflecting thoroughly.

Researchers have been able to operate behind closed doors for so long, they have forgotten what it feels like to operate in the daylight. No wonder they shy away at first out of fright or unwillingness, but I have found it more rewarding in the long run. Getting unexpected feedback on crucial and fringe things is really exciting, because it also shows engagement of others with your work. Look at the open source community, where pointing out problems in code is being lauded instead of shunned. Identifying problems is the first step to solving them, so more hands on deck minimizes the probability of missing these problems.

So all in all, being open in order to empower science comes with the realization that science isn’t all about you.

Written by Chris Hartgerink who is a PhD candidate in Statistics at Tilburg University. Shared under a CC 0 public domain dedication license.