The State of Open Science

Posted 2013-10-17 by Greg Wilson in Opinion.

As part of the biannual Mozilla Summit a couple of weeks ago, John Jensen presented a report on the health of the open web. The details were fascinating, and are summed up in a graphic showing how the various layers of openness that we all depend on are doing. I've reproduced it on the left, and summarized my view of how open science is doing by those same measures on the right:

Open Web
User Choice
& Control
Social
Activity
Economic
Activity
Trust
Diversity of Services
Innovation
Content Freedom
Interoperability
Access
Open Science
User Choice
& Control
Social
Activity
Economic
Activity
Trust
Diversity of Services
Innovation
Content Freedom
Interoperability
Access

Here are Jensen's analysis (based on tons of data) and mine (which are mostly opinion) from the bottom up:

Area Open Web   Open Science
Access A third of the world's people have regular access to the Internet, and only 2% live in countries that are almost completely disconnected from it (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Uzbekistan). On the other hand, only one tenth of Americans with disabilities ever use the Internet. Despite widespread availability of web access in industrialized countries, and ever-increasing access elsewhere, even the most well resourced research groups still hit barriers gaining access to content and data. People are working at all levels to change this, but much needs to be done.
Interoperability Modern browsers are mostly compatible with each other. Scientific services mostly don't talk to each other.
Content Freedom Governments are trying hard to control who can see what, but we are still largely free to read, see, and say what we want.
(Note: in discussion, Jensen said that this one probably ought to be yellow to reflect the resurgence of walled gardens and DRM.)
Even researchers at highly-ranked, well-funded institutions have difficulty accessing their peers' research due to pay walls and other roadblocks put up by content providers.
Innovation Most of the excitement has been on mobile devices and tablets in recent years. A ton of new ideas and services have appeared in the last couple of years, and there's no sign of the rush slowing down.
Diversity of
Services
Diversity diminishes as you go up the stack. For example, no single network operator dominates the web, but by the time you reach operating systems we're down to three, and when you reach social networks and search engines, there's really only one of each. Diversity diminishes as you approach the end of the publishing pipeline: there are many more points of data collection than there are usable archives, and a handful of big players have the same kind of stranglehold on publishing that Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have on the web.
User Choice
& Control
Lots on the desktop, but the mobile and tablet markets are really dominated by Safari and related products—Fennec (the mobile version of Firefox) has only a tiny share of the market. More importantly, perhaps, users don't control their identities: Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! do. No one player dominates science on the web the way Apple, Google, and Facebook dominate the web in general.
Social
Activity
On the one hand, Facebook is 83% of online social time. On the other hand, legislation like SOPA and PIPA has repeatedly been beaten back. The social science of science is still mostly conducted in person at conferences.
Economic
Activity
E-commerce dominates, but next in line is advertising, and that's a near monopoly. The business of science—things like paper reviews—is now conducted almost entirely through the web, but most of the software and services used are black boxes controlled by a small number of players.
Trust "Internet & Social Media" was 25th out of 25 industries in a survey of who people trust, below banks and even airlines... Mostly scientists trust their peers' work, as evidenced by the fact that they don't require one another to share data and code as part of the peer review process. That isn't necessarily a good thing...

This analysis shows why so many of the people working on open science are focusing on institutional change to open up content, and technical change to get the things we already have to talk to each other. Our mission for the next couple of years is to give those people the skills and tools they need to do that.

comments powered by Disqus