Sharing is performing

Infants are taught to share indiscriminately from an early age. In the English speaking world, there is even a mantra: “sharing is caring,” repeated ad nauseum until children comply. This socially engineered behaviour is probably one of the greatest assets children would need in later life. And for those who will become scientists sharing is to become second nature, part of their day-to-day collaborations.

But, as soon as they stop abiding by the rules of their childhood, people start to become more and more discriminate in their sharing practices. The irony of our current times is that it has never been easier to share and to collaborate, resulting in a seemingly accelerated scientific process.

This apparent free for all information and increasingly transparent work environment strongly contrasts with scientists deliberate attempt to carefully select collaborating partners to enhance their chance of success. Particularly in highly competitive research fields, scientists are adopting a collaborating strategy, best described by the mantra: “discriminate sharing is performing.” This approach has been further compounded by the availability digitally-enhanced sharing practices, leading to even more careful selection when setting up collaboration.

In essence, even with technology, nothing has changed. We are reaching an era reminiscent of a time when collaborating was considered an art form. The millenary-old teachings of books such as Sun Tzu’s Art of War on how to treat allies—read research partners—and opponents—read competitors—still apply. What has changed? Today, online reputation matters to a greater extent than before and helps fuel potential partners’ attractiveness for collaboration.

The true litmus tests of a significant change in the research process paradigm would be when research teams—that were once considered competitors— start joining forces; one step closer to truly open science. To help reach this stage soon, there may be a case in performing studies of sharing practices as social habits through organisational studies. These could help differentiate various levels of sharing and their prerequisites—namely by exploring the context of research organisation, the characteristics of individuals and of teams as a whole, the cultural and values framework in which scientists operate and the drivers of researchers’ motivations.

Ultimately, gaining a better understanding of sharing conditions, could contribute to create a new, wider culture of sharing, which would also encompass the views of citizens. Only then, would global competition no longer be sacrificed at the cost of collaboration. Thus, we can start exploring what pressing societal issues a truly sharing science could solve. As the resources allocated to research dwindle, or are increasingly rationalised by political instances, the day where more open, less discriminate, ways of collaborating is taking place may be closer than expected.

Sabine Louët

Editor, The EuroScientist

 

Go back to Why sharing matters special issue.

Illustration credit: Dave Duarte/Flickr

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