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Science Does Sharing!

February 12, 2011

This is a really interesting article. It points to a huge advance in the transparency and sharing-potential of science. I think it can also lead to more scientists being able to call on members of the public to assist and more p2p science..

Monday [Jan 11th 2011] was a great day for public health research. It was also a scary day for researchers. Scary because on Monday, with a minimum of fanfare, the paymasters of public health research put the scientists they fund at the frontline of the data-sharing revolution. We are a reluctant fighting force.

Chivvied along by the UK’s biggest charity, the Wellcome Trust, science funders from across the industrial world issued a joint statement that essentially said they expect the data generated by studies they fund to be shared. It might not sound scary, but it could change the face of health research.

Look at what happened with genetics. In the early 1980s, geneticists worked away in their different labs, racing to sequence genes and patent them before the neighbouring lab could. The result: duplication, very slow progress and a huge bill. This infuriated the US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, who between them footed much of that bill. So in 1986 they knocked some heads together, and decided they’d only fund geneticists who were willing to make their data available immediately. Nowadays, gene sequences get posted on the web daily and scientists build on one another’s work. The pace of discovery has increased exponentially and, as a result, so have diagnostics and cures.

Now those funders, and another 15 including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and the national research councils of the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, want to do the same for any research they pay for that involves collecting data from people specifically for research (samples collected during provision of health services are excluded). They reason that taxpayers and charities deserve to get the maximum public health bang out of each research buck. That means allowing researchers to trawl though one another’s data, combining the results to answer new questions. An early experiment combining data on malaria is showing how powerful sharing can be.

Also posted on p2p foundation blog.

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