Week 9: Prising Open Science with Media, Technology and Culture

What do you think about when your read the words: open science? It’s a funny term, sounds like a trick question doesn’t it? Open science is essentially where scientific information is easy accessible to citizens and is made relevant by the inherent links science has with culture and the media; particularly the manifestation created between these three elements of life.

In the 1950s and 60s one might argue the following video was an example of ‘open science’:

The television program ‘Why is it so?’ was a new way for science to be made available to children, through a new past-time based on the biggest thing in media at the time; television. Children were exposed to a scientific education in the comfort of the homes, in an interesting manner and different to what they had experienced this before. Thus, this was ‘open science’ in its origin as science combined with the media and culture to evolve into a more accessible form of its former self; like a tadpole to a frog or caterpillar into a butterfly.

In looking at how science could be increased in the level of ‘openness’ that exists Elizabeth Pisani discusses the January 2011 announcement by Wellcome Trust, a UK research charity, that public health research scientists would begin sharing data. An announcement that would be followed by another 15 funders “…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, wanting 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)”[1]. So that not only would taxpayers and charities get a sense of how well the money was being spent but allow scientists to collaborate, by comparing results, where previously this wasn’t possible. Interestingly though Pisani notes that a previous obstruction to this level of openness being established lies in the “visceral feelings of ownership that come with months of research”[2] and the occurrence of “mistakes that are inevitable but rarely admitted to.”[3]

Finally, examples of how science is ‘opening’ up through media/technological advances that are impacting on society and culture is the presence of online and open-access archives and journals like ..arXiv and thePublic Library of Science (PLoS) and GalaxyZoo; a citizen-science site.” Lin details that even blogging has provided a mechanism for science to become more ‘open’ where “On the collaborative blog MathOverflow, mathematicians earn reputation points for contributing to solutions”[4] and on the “social networking site called ResearchGate — scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators — which is rapidly gaining popularity”[5]. In Lin’s article he finishes with a quote from Dr Nielsen a successful scientist who has written a paper titled “Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science[6] who concludes that while scientists have previously been “…scientists have been ‘very inhibited and slow to adopt a lot of online tools’, open science was coalescing into “a bit of a movement.”[7]


[1] Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds.<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing&gt;

[2] Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds.<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing&gt;

[3] Pisani, Elizabeth (2011) Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds.<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing&gt;

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