Dare to Share: SCIEnCE's philosophy

 

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Dare to Share: SCIEnCE's philosophy

Format for SCIEnCE Proposals – Wikify!

The future – Morphing PPP into SCIEnCE

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Proposal #1: Marked for Death

Proposal #2: Centralized Proposal Depository 

Proposal #3: Inducible tract-specific spinal cord injury

Suggestion #1: Take the 'preclinical' out of animal testing 

Suggestion #2: Public Contribution Rating

Suggestion #3: Crowdsource CRISP

Proposals Under Construction

Ideas - and Patients - are dying

Patient advocacy groups and philanthropic foundations rightfully deride the slow pace of translating basic research into helpful treatments. Among other reasons for this slow pace, secrecy is one of the most harmful and inexcusable factors delaying bench-to-bedside progress. A lab may secretly and clumsily attack a worthwhile idea with a faulty plan, whereas a bunch of other labs could much more effectively make progress using a collaborative approach.

Worse yet, in many cases, researchers refuse to share raw data behind already-published studies - this can and does lead almost directly to increased patient suffering and dying. I wouldn't blame people who lose loved ones to cancer or neurodegenerative disease for considering such acts of selfish secrecy as criminal.

When people share ideas, the pace of progress quickens. When the pace of scientific progress quickens, the entire world benefits.

The current system of evaluating scientific merit restricts progress by rewarding the 'first' to publish. Under this system, we time and time again see races between secretive competing labs concluded with published work that is at best shoddy and at worst fraudulent, leading to wasted time and resources.

True progress will occur much more rapidly through open cooperation, not the secretive competition that dominates our supposedly noble field.

It will take more than advocacy to reverse these warped priorities. It will take money and a new set of incentives to better align scientists' individual motivations with society's best interests. SCIEnCE hopes to help establish these new incentives and attract seed money from philanthropic foundations to properly reward collaborative scientists for their progressive approach. 


What's missing from the scientific blogging community?

Apologies in advance to anyone overlooked. In sporadic research on scientific blogs, SCIEnCE has found that most tend to fall into one (or both) of two categories: discussion of one's own sphere of expertise; or commentary about the latest reports in the lay or scientific media. There are seemingly few lonely voices out there trying to spark new approaches to conducting science. Inspirational sites include The Gotham Prize Foundation, PatientsLikeMe, Useful Chemistry, and Open Reading Frame.

What is preventing Open Science from spreading more quickly? Territory. As in, scientists don't want to risk getting scooped on their own good ideas. So they tend to sit on them. See this old post from a Blog Around the Clock, this from Open Reading Frame, and the cautionary story from PZ Myers partway down the page here.

 

Suffering from Secretive Science

Who loses when people sit on their ideas? All of us. Scientific progress and human advancement, that's all. Good ideas should be publicized, not hoarded. How many original ideas have died silent deaths because the originator didn't have the time or expertise to develop the idea into a full research proposal? The scientific community needs to encourage idea survival and propagation rather than hoarding and death.

We need a Wiki-like forum where scientific ideas and hypotheses are initially proposed by a contributor(s), then discussed and improved upon by the community. This way, non-experts (scientists in other fields as well as lay people) can contribute good ideas to a project outside their field without feeling pressured to learn more about specialized techniques - other specialists in the SCIEnCE community can handle the gritty details.

A growing number of scientists are willing to prioritize communal goals above their individual glory. SCIEnCE applauds leaders like Jean-Claude Bradley, Bora Zivkovic, and Alex Palazzo, to name a few. They have very articulately made the case for the open approach to science. SCIEnCE agrees with everything they say about the need to change the 'PPP' atmosphere: Publish, get Paid, and get Promoted. 

The PPP culture creates an incentive to keep secrets, thereby slowing the rate at which science can help humanity. Too often, scientists working on important discoveries care more about the potential significance to their own CV than about the potential benefit to other humans. Making the future even more bleak, many young scientists are either abandoning academia, or not entering the PPP world of science to begin with – after all, if it’s all about getting Paid and Promoted, then academia is NOT the best place to be!

We need to change toward a SCIEnCE culture: 

Share Collaborative Ideas, ENact Cooperative Efforts!

We at SCIEnCE realize how idealistic this all sounds. But don’t call us Marxists just yet. Individuals need more incentive to work hard than just for the intangible benefit of society at large. But the built-in incentives of the PPP system drive individuals to practices that are counter-productive to societal good. 

The future of SCIEnCE depends on providing incentives that better align individual motivation with overall human progress. One trailblazer on this front is the Gotham Prize Foundation, which offers a $1 million award annually for the best submitted idea for diagnosing or treating cancer. Unlike any other funding organization that SCIEnCE is aware of, GPF encourages ideas even from scientists who will not actually perform the experiments, makes all submitted ideas publicly available online, and encourages initiation of collaborations.

SCIEnCE would love to host a forum similar to GPF, except for proposals in any scientific field, and with a more comprehensive credit-awarding system rather than a winner-takes-all prize. Thus, one of the most important and challenging tasks SCIEnCE faces will be to establish new methods of evaluating and rewarding scientists for their efforts. SCIEnCE has no intentions of obliterating the structure of academic departments and the NIH as we know it. The most successful scientists will still earn prestigious academic positions, higher salary and grant support. But that success will no longer depend as much on guarding secrets. See The Future – Morphing PPP Into SCIEnCE for a discussion of the Public Contribution Rating (PCR) that will be employed in this regard.

The more accepted and popular the SCIEnCE approach becomes, the more we will ALL benefit. Ideas will be improved and plans executed much more quickly. Young minds will increasingly be drawn back into the fold. Venerable institutions such as universities, journals, and granting agencies will become motivated to adopt the principles of SCIEnCE.

But, an ogre lurks between the present and the future – the issue of scooping. As in, if someone posts too much information too soon on their own ideas, another more powerful lab could swoop in, wrench the project out of the originator's hands, and run away with all the glory (see this link). This is a very legitimate concern given the current system of judging scientific merit in academia.

The SCIEnCE format will fight the scooping ogre by attempting to maximize the benefits of sharing scientific ideas while minimizing the risks of scooping. As Jean-Claude Bradley and others have emphasized, getting your ideas 'published' in any type of web forum should carry as much weight of precedence as the more traditional form of publishing. Once the PPP system begins to fade away, the SCIEnCE system will make the term ‘scooping’ obsolete…

Until that time, here are a few suggestions for more safely initiating the SCIEnCE philosophy: 

Left Field

If fear of scooping (or wrath from above) compels you not to share your own project's inner secrets online (yet), then try contributing an idea somewhat removed from your current project. Do you ever read a paper not directly related to your work that just gets you thinking? Why not flesh out those thoughts a little more and turn them into proposals? This way, you can publicly disseminate your ideas without concern that someone will scoop your own project. It is tragic that people sit on good ideas all the time, just in case they get around to working on the idea themselves at some point in the future. Please try to remember the welfare of science and society as a whole, and get that idea out there sooner rather than later!

No preliminary data

There are several excellent reasons to avoid posting preliminary data on SCIEnCE. Most importantly, this is simply not the forum to publish experimental results - it is a forum for exchanging ideas and developing experimental plans. Once 'data' gets dragged in, inevitable flame wars will rage over bands on a blot, statistical analyses, and the like. 

Your burden, as both a contributor and a reader, will be lessened by not having to wade through troves of potentially suspect preliminary data. Once collaborative research plans are refined, multiple cooperating labs will need to reconcile and reproduce data from key experiments before publishing the results in a more traditional format. This will reduce the likelihood of a splashy paper featuring results that are never replicated by any other lab (it’s anyone’s guess what the current likelihood of non-reproducibility is – how about 33-50%?).

No credit? No problem!

Alternative sources will be found to support SCIEnCE’s institution of a new funding mechanism, where scientists are rewarded with more prestige and more funding for their cooperation rather than for their secrecy. Proposal contributions to SCIEnCE will be dated and attributed to registered users. Subsequent community suggestions and improvements will be incorporated (and individually attributed) into the original proposals. Credit will be distributed based on a new Public Contribution Rating (PCR) based on the number, strength, and popularity of publicly contributed ideas. Again, see The Future: Morphing PPP into SCIEnCE for more on that...