I had the great pleasure of recently attending the Science Commons Symposium held at Microsoft Research. After years (decades really) of being away from academic science, it was refreshing to see how much had changed and how much had changed.
The one thing that really struck me is how much “trust” plays in science. The theory is that Scientists publish results, their conclusions are subject to peer review and science marches on. If only it was that clean and simple. One of the insights I came away with is that yes the result (conclusion) is important but how it was obtained (the method) as well as the assumptions inherent in the experiment are of themselves of tremendous benefit to other scientists.
To quote one of the speakers Prof. J. C. Bradley
There are no facts, only measurements embedded with assumptions.
Professor Bradley is a leader of the Open Notebook Project, whereby notebooks (including photographs and video) are put on line and thereby allow other scientists to understand the experiment not just get the results. But as Prof. Cameron Neylon stated earlier in the program.
Broadcasting is easy, sharing effectively is hard.
How to find scientific information is particularly difficult (and to be sure of its accuracy). One of the examples given was that there is a representational language in Chemistry called InChI (International Chemical Identifier). For proteins this can be extremely large, which when searched for on the internet are truncated by search engines, so a hashed version of the InChI needs to be used to search for large molecules. Trouble is it can be used to find a compound but the hash cannot be reverse engineered to the original InChI.
There was also much discussion on how the nature of scientific publishing is changing. Today a library subscription to a major journal can cost in excess of $25,000 per annum and with about 20,000 journals in circulation, it is difficult if not impossible for any library or academic institution to afford (or manage) a small subset of appropriate journals.
Other drivers include the concept that government funded research ought to be free to access and built upon and not tied up in a copyrighted paper within a journal only accessible to the chosen few who can afford it. To address this the number of online journals is rapidly increasing with more open peer review but as of yet not the prestige of the major journals.