Can science be open?

6 May

This week I want to explore whether it is possible for scientific knowledge to be transferred to the wider public through digital media. Even though scientific knowledge today is disseminated across a network of institutions such as universities and government agencies, there still exists a barrier between this network and the non-academic world (Anon., 2011). As a way to overcome this barrier one could adopt a interdisciplinary approach which closely analyses the way scientists give new information to the public and policy makers and then see how this information is absorbed by the wider public (Anon., 2011). This is linked to scientific meteorology, which is a new way of measuring the reach and impact of scientific work (Anon., 2011). This approach could make a huge impact when it comes to sustainable development and climate change as it will ensure that the public is getting all the necessary information that they need to make informed choices (Anon., 2011). As well as this, the new interdisciplinary approach could lead to interdisciplinary research centers. One example is Columbia University’s Earth Institute which has people from diverse backgrounds such as social science and biochemistry working on the same goal: ecological sustainability and development (Anon., 2011). I believe this interdisciplinary approach could have a huge impact on the world as it allows people to be involved in scientific inquiry.

Furthermore, one way to open up science is to change the way scientific knowledge is published. Dan Gezelter claims that the concept of open science is not part of the ‘incentive network’ that scientists follow (Gezelter, 2009). A network that directs scientists to “Work. Finish. Publish (Gezelter, 2009).” Moreover, Gezelter suggests that scientists focus on releasing their work to the wider public therefore making their work transparent, increasing collaboration and communication (Gezelter, 2009). This changes the way scientists’ complete scientific projects and this could ultimately change the way science is perceived by the wider public. In addition, it encourages people to get involved in scientific endeavors and have input in scientific ideas thereby enriching the scientific project. This new way of circulating scientific knowledge made me reflect on the case of David Reimer. David was born in 1965 and shortly after his birth underwent a circumcision, which completely destroyed his penis (Colapinto., 2000). His parents out of desperation sought the help of renowned psychologist Dr. John Money who persuaded them to have their son undergo sex reassignment surgery so that he could be brought up as a girl (Anon., 2012). Despite Dr Money’s insistence that it was possible to make David into a girl through nurturing, David hated being a girl and suffered severe bullying while at school (Colapinto, 2000). By the time David was 14 he decided to live as a boy and had further surgery to make this possible (Anon, 2012). Nonetheless, the psychological turmoil that David suffered was too much to bear and he ended up committing suicide when he was 38 years old (Anon., 2012). The reason why I think this case relates to the phenomena of open science is because very few social scientists and medical professionals questioned Dr. Money’s theory of gender neutrality. A theory that claimed that gender identity is developed through social learning rather than biological factors (Anon., 2012). If there had been an open approach to social science at this time then it may have led people to question Dr. Money’s theories and techniques. This might have meant that David’s parents were able to make a more informed choice, which could have benefited their son.

However, there are problems with making scientific knowledge open to the public through digital media. Namely, the fact that when scientists disseminate their work using blog posts their work may loose credibility, as their work hasn’t undergone the peer review checking that a traditional scientific paper has (Gavin, 2011). In contrast, peer-reviewed papers are usually “more reflective, more interesting, more concise and more of a serious contribution (Gavin, 2011).” This is mainly due to the fact that the author is aware that their work has to go through a peer-reviewed process therefore they are more likely to make a bigger effort. In addition, work that has not undergone a peer-review process will have little influence in the mainstream scientific community (Gavin, 2011).

Despite the risks involved in making science open, I believe that the potential for innovation and collaboration make the risks worthwhile. I want to incorporate this scientific potential in my research project and perhaps link open science with social and ecological change.

 

Below is a short clip from a BBC documentary about David Reimer’s story:

 

References:

Anon. (2011) ‘On Science Transfer’, Seed [online]. Available at: http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/on_science_transfer [Accessed 4 May 2012].

Anon. (2012) David Reimer, Wikipedia [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer [Accessed 5 May 2012].

Colapinto, J. (2000) As Nature Made Him. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gavin. (2011) From blog to science, RealClimate [online]. Available at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/ [Accessed 4 May 2012].

Gezelter, D. (2009) What, exactly, is Open Science? The OpenScience Project [online]. Available at: http://www.openscience.org/blog/?p=269 [Accessed 4 May 2012].

 

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