“Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.” That was written in 1945, proving “plus ça change; plus c’est la même chose.” It’s taken from an essay, As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush for the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic magazine. Here’s the editor’s introduction,
As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For years inventions have extended man’s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but not the end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work. Like Emerson’s famous address of 1837 on “The American Scholar,” this paper by Dr. Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge. —THE EDITOR
These days with the open data and open access initiatives, there seems to be a new interest in making science more accessible and this time it’s coming from the grassroots. Over at Techdirt, Glyn Moody in his Nov. 18, 2011 posting highlights a new project for making science research accessible. It’s called ‘Beethoven’s open repository’ and here’s more about the project from the organizers (from the Transforming the way we publish research webpage),
We want to change the way research is communicated, both amongst researchers, as well as with health practitioners, patients and the wider public. Inspired by Beethoven, we want to build a research version of his repository and try to tackle the question “What if the public scientific record would be updated directly as research proceeds?“
Every year, over 1 million scholarly articles are being published in around 25,000 journals. No researcher – let alone the public – can keep track of all the relevant information any more, not even in small fields. To make things worse, only about 20% of these articles are freely accessible in one way or another, but the majority is not. Our project aims at providing a technically feasible solution: open-access articles that evolve along with the topic they cover.
This would allow researchers, research funders and the public to stay up to date with research in their fields of interest. It would save researchers time because when they write their results up, they could make use of the context provided by the existing articles, and outreach would be built in from the beginning, rather than being perceived as an extra burden that comes after a traditional publication. It would also save funders time because monitoring research progress would amount to checking the change logs of the respective articles. It would also save patients time, especially when a disease makes their clocks tick faster. Last but not least, it would open the doors for science as a spectator sport, and allow for enhanced interaction between citizen science and more traditional approaches to research.
Chris Mietchen is one of the moving forces (organizers) for this effort. From the About Me page,
A biophysicist by training, I have used a number of techniques from the physical sciences to investigate biological systems and their evolution. My focus so far was on the application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques to fossils, embryonic development and cold tolerance but I did some excursions into music perception, measuring brain structure, or vocal production in elephants as well.
For the prototyping of Beethoven’s open repository of research, I have teamed up with brain scientist M. Fabiana Kubke (@kubke) of the University of Auckland, and we invite everyone to join us in shaping the project.
The organizers are raising funds for ‘Beethoven’s open repository’ at RocketHub. They have also posted this video (which explains the reference to Beethoven as well as other details about their project),
I have featured the issue of access to research previously in my Nov. 3, 2011 posting, Disrupting scientific research. There is also a US federal government public consultation mentioned in my Nov. 7, 2011 posting. The consultation is open to comments until January 2012.
I wish Mietchen and Kubke the best of luck as they raise funds for ‘Beethoven’s open repository’.