Hello, Teardown Report readers! I hope you had a great week.
As you all know, the hot acronyms of the week were SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), two controversial bills that Congress is in the process of hashing out. These pieces of legislation are largely targeted at rogue companies who are making money off of privacy, but opponents say that dramatic provisions outlined in SOPA and PIPA will have a chilling effect on individuals who use the internet to share their opinions. Many sites even had 24-hour blackouts this week, with Wikipedia being one of the largest and most influential sites protesting. This action fueled several sponsors to drop out, and CBS news reports today that Tuesday’s procedural vote on PIPA will be postponed.
Due to the fact that there are already a plethora of tech bloggers debating this issue who are more informed than I am, I’d like to digress from this subject for the remainder of the post. However, it will be only a matter of time before members take another look at these bills again, so it is something to keep an eye on.
The issue of retaining an open flow of information has also got scientists talking about ways to free up the costly and time-consuming process of submitting research to the academic community. The New York Times ran Thomas Lin’s excellent piece this week called Cracking Open the Scientific Process, which introduces us to a new school of scientists who ask if social networking could quell some of the frustration associated with the current peer-review process. This, in mind, is starkly similar to the data-sharing debates that have surfaced within the MRO community in recent years.
In the article, quantum physicist Michael Nielsen likens the current method of academic review to “17th-century technology,” and says that “open science” can lead to faster collaboration via the internet, which in turn contributes to more scientific progress overall. The main gripe of this method is that it is costly and time-consuming to publish work in a scholarly publication, despite the advances of the internet.
The Times references some of the tools that already exist for this purpose—open journals such as Cornell’s arXiv, the Public Library of Science and Galaxy Zoo. One of the most innovative sites they reference is ResearchGate, which uses social media as the backbone for communication among its more than 1.3 million members.
Nevertheless, advocates for the “open science” movement still say that for as smart and innovative as the scientific community is, in the words of Nielsen “very inhibited and slow to adapt to a lot of online tools.” While that seems counterintuitive, it does make sense in a way: the cornerstone of scientific excellence is a paper (sometimes PDF) document reviewed by the best-of the-best and disseminated into the hands of those who have the clout and money to pay for it.
ResearchGate and other sites use the basis of facebook, twitter and even online dating sites to achieve the primary function of social networking: connecting people that likely would not be able to communicate with each other as easily in the “real” world, let alone find each other in the first place.
But why aren’t those people who review and make the journals pushing for faster, easier communication through the internet? Why is the scientific publishing process still controlled by powerful gatekeepers who, some in the article argue, make peer review “hidebound, expensive and elitist?” Well, one good reason is that it takes a lot of creativity and work to produce a science magazine or journal, even if most of the writing is made up of submissions. It takes a lot more than copying and pasting words onto a page and calling it a day (please take my word for it). Add the labor of a thorough and thoughtful review procedure for each piece, and the fees to submit work start to make sense.
But I did not direct you to this article to pontificate about how the media industry is changing. I suggested it because so many of the things scientists are saying about their own community evoke comments that I have heard from MRO innovators. Would it be an unfair observation to liken the commercial MRO industry to the science community we read about here that is conservative and slow to adapt to these collaborative tools?
I have heard many people echo the sentiment that the MRO industry is slow to change, so I think we can compare the two industries. But innovations such as nanotechnology and even materials engineering are bringing science from other industries into the MRO sector, and papers are becoming more important. For example, academic theses are the basis for consortiums such as Quebec's CRIAQ, which encourages different companies and universities to do research and to create detailed papers that lay the basis for more research dollars.
Readers, what do you think? Is “open science” a promising concept that will eventually replace peer-review? Or will it just serve as a complement to the trusted, age-old process of submitting findings to scientific journals?
Also, do any of you use ResearchGate or similar sites to meet other scientists? Are there any sites like this for MRO users?