Monday, August 6, 2007

When will science catch up with the Web?

It seems that we've had an explosion in the tools for collaborative work in programming projects, social interaction, and general resource management over the past 5 years thanks to the Web. So, why is it that science seems to be stuck back in 1993? Sure, collaboration via email, messengers, and Skype is on the rise, but where's the truly USEFUL implementations of internet technology. Ignoring the fact that 99.9% of all science department websites barely scrape by with HTML 1.0 specifications, where's the ingenuity? (I would like to point you to OUR department website - be prepared to laugh and be horrified at the same time. You've been warned!)

Sure, we can grab papers a little quicker, and there's distributed computing, but most of that is old hat, and barely a step up from 1980's clusters and Xerox machines.

The closest thing I've seen recently has been NeuroCommons - a component of Science Commons. The general idea is based around the idea of Creative Commons, a copyright method that currently fits the internet model for the publishing, display and use of original materials. This is not a niche phenomenon - heavyweights like Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) and Blogger (owned by Google) are among the companies on board.

Part of the problem is obviously recognition. New systems of copyright have yet to be really tested for how well they will hold up in court, and the impact of recognition for CC work has really yet to be seen. I think everyone is frantically trying to be the next Einstein - that lone scientific figure that makes a huge breakthrough. The more you share, the more of the limelight you lose. Add to that the issue of funding, and it's no wonder copyright/researchright schemes fail. No doubt an international free market approach to translational research would solve many of these issues (you make the discovery leading to a medication, you get part of the profit), but that leaves basic science as the bastard child of rest of research.

I have some ideas that I'm mulling over in my head right now. I like shocking the system. I don't want to share them just yet, but if I decide against my little 'plan', I'll put it out there for others to consider. There are legal reasons that this idea would not be feasible, and I'm not THAT nuts, nor do I want to jeopardize the work of others. I'll talk with some people, get some feedback, and see if it is feasible.

PopSci has a nice overview of the copyrighting idea for the uninitiated.

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