Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, September 08, 2006

The broken cycle of information in chemistry

Peter Murray-Rust, Open Source, Open Data and the science commons, A Scientist and the Web, September 7, 2006.  Excerpt:

In this post I content that the chemical information cycle is broken - to the detriment of the chemical and general commons. Iíll explain what that means.

Robert Terry, Wellcome Trust, is widely know for his advocacy of Open Access....Essentially his argument is that funders support scientists to do research. The results of this work are then given (i.e. copyright assigned) to publishers who get peer-review donated by the scientific community and then restrict the dissemination to readers who are able and prepared to pay. The wealth flow (which include both money, informatics goods, and services) is a net drain FROM the funders TO the shareholders of the publishers....

[By contrast, under OA] the cycle is complete: funders support science; science is published into the commons; the commons can be seen by the funders who can demonstrate the value of their contribution; and the new goods inspire the next generation of science.

Can we apply the same sort of logic to software and data in science? Again we need a cycle or the producers end up subsidizing other parts of the chain. In bioscience this can work. Although there is a considerable problem in any science in supporting data and technology there is direct funding for databases and software....The funders support science with a partial provision for the development of tools to support it. They require that the tools and the data are made available to the community. In this way the cycles are closed and there is a flow of goods back to the commons....

In contrast the flow in chemistry is broken. I have omitted the funders from the diagram but there [are] very few projects where major software or data has been mandated as Open by the funders. Iíd be delighted to have examples. In practice almost all software is commercial and unresponsive to the needs of the science commons. The major market for both software and data is the pharmaceutical industry which pays billions to major information suppliers. This biases the flow so that only crumbs return to the commons. Itís actually worse than zero because if a commercial offering exists there is no motivation to build one in the Commons. So innovation is stifled....