I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last few months – as you might expect – reading my way round the blogosphere. To my shame, I now can’t remember in which particular blog I came across this quote from Peter Medewar, in his Advice to a Young Scientist but I love it:
The agreed house rule of the little group of close colleagues I have always worked with has always been ‘Tell everyone everything you know’; and I don’t know anyone who came to any harm by falling in with it.
Doing our science in the open means that we are telling everyone but this might be a bit fear-making. The image I have in my mind is Gollum (Lord of the Rings), clutching the ring to his chest, hissing ‘the Precious is mine …’. (For full effect, you have to have heard the 1981 BBC radio version but I expect you get my drift.) I suspect I’m going to be spending some time tangling with issues of gatekeeping and measures of confidence and reliability. What happens to peer-review, precedence and trust? (Mind you, how much can we rely on peer-review when we see deliberate fraud, fakery and one country outsourcing its peer-review to another in the face of accusations of conflict of interest?) Open peer-review might be a way forward but how do we get over the hump that so many are unwilling to contribute to the forums?
Precedence is maybe easier to think around. Jean-Claude Bradley said ‘if someone actually did try to scoop you, it would be very easy to prove your priority – and to embarrass them. I think that’s really what is going to drive open science: the fear factor. If you wait for the journals, your work won’t appear for another six to nine months. But with open science, your claim to priority is out there right away’.
Trust will have to wait for a another time. I’m off to a conference on science communication for a couple of days and I haven’t packed my suitcase yet.