The Guardian recently published an interesting article on open data in science, including interviews with OKF Co-Founder Rufus Pollock and other leading voices from the world of open science.
“The litmus test of openness is whether you can have access to the data,” says Dr Rufus Pollock, a co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, a group that promotes broader access to information and data. “If you have access to the data, then anyone can get it, use it, reuse it and redistribute it… we’ve always built on the work of others, stood on the shoulders of giants and learned from those who have gone before.”
In the seven years since he started the organisation, Pollock, now in his early 30s, has helped build communities and tools around everything from economics data to Shakespeare’s sonnets. He says that it is increasingly vital for many scientists to adopt an open approach.
“We have found ourselves in a weird dead end,” he says – where publicly funded science does not produce publicly accessible information. That leads to all kinds of problems, not least controversies such as the leaked climate change emails from the University of East Anglia, which led to claims of bias among the research team.
But it’s more than just politics at stake – it’s also a fundamental right to share knowledge, rather than hide it. The best example of open science in action, he suggests, is the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped our DNA and then made the data public. In doing so, it outflanked J Craig Venter’s proprietary attempt to patent the human genome, opening up the very essence of human life for science, rather than handing our biological information over to corporate interests.
“It was a very large project in one of the most organised and information-rich areas of science, but it faced genuine competition from a closed model,” says Dr Pollock. “It is basically an extraordinary example and it could have gone in a very different way.”
Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.