One cultural shift away, towards fairer science

With scientists’ greater willingness to share and adequate crediting, technology could foster the widest ever scientific collaboration

Picture the future of science. We would live in a world where those who promote secrecy in research, do it at a cost. The cost of subsidising those who favour sharing knowledge freely. In this dual-pronged model, there is a shift in power away from hierarchy, towards self-organisation.

Putting the onus on scientists to choose whether information is private or not gives power back to individuals. It also creates an opportunity for geographically-distributed teams to contribute to a joint aim from across the world at unprecedented scale. This could mean greater involvement of scientists in the lesser funded laboratories, for example from emerging economies.

What technology is about to achieve, is to bring this sharing culture to the next level, by associating scientists who would never had an opportunity to collaborate before.

However, technology alone does not have the power to make change happen. It just facilitates such a move. This shift in attitude towards the scientific and innovation processes requires scientists to muster all the plasticity that their brain can offer. That’s because it takes a lot of will power to step away from the traditional ways of practising science, and to revisit the notion of research competitivity.

Competitivity might have driven science in recent years. But it does not foster a spirit of collaboration. The trouble is, to be able to take, you need to be able to give. The ‘giftivism’ movement may bring a welcome evolution to the current research culture. This approach advocates giving to others, through radical generous acts, as a means of changing the relationship between people. And, ultimately, it harbours the noble aim to alter the values driving change–away from greed and secrecy. This movement is partly based on the concept that generosity changes our outlook on life, down to the last neural connections.

Regardless of competitivity, one could argue that giftivism has, to an extent, always been part of the scientific culture. Exchange of ideas and perspectives between research collaborators–which involves sharing findings and giving one’s time to the mutually commenting of others’ results or validating other people’s work by taking the time to reproduce it–are just many of the routine aspects of doing research. However, the new piece of the jigsaw is the sheer scale of connectivity between scientists. This opens the door to unprecedented scale of collaboration, which will require more good will than competition.

For this to work, we need a stimulus. One solution is to evolve the credit and reward systems so that it recognises the minutest contributions to the debates, which constitute the essence of scientific progress — be it via nanopublications, blogs or tweets. The formula has yet to be further refined. Let’s hope that it is possible to make most of the new opportunities in a way that provides adequate reward to scientists showing a positive attitude without forcing them into precarity.

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by aroon_kalandy

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2 thoughts on “One cultural shift away, towards fairer science”

  1. Terry Tao (great mathematician) have managed to successfully start wide-open Internet collaboration projects. I advise to search for his article about that.