Scattered data stifling scientific revolutions: Expert

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Melbourne, Oct 6 : In an age where machines conduct scientific experiments and data is superfluous, a lack of integration between related findings may stifle the possibility of scientific revolutions, according to an expert.

John Wilbanks of Science Commons- a project of Creative Commons, said that the cost of research and its control by "old-boys clubs" encourages researchers to stick to tiny and "safe" questions that fit in with existing tracks of thinking.

He claimed that science should come out of the shackles of its power-brokers and embrace a participatory web-based culture to boost innovation.

"The value of any individual piece of knowledge is about the value of any individual piece of lego. It's not that much until you put it together with other legos," ABC Online quoted Wilbanks, as saying.

He claimed that it was time that people harnessed the power of machines to help us make the best sense of all the data we're generating, and had thus suggested that the results of scientific experiments should be made freely available in an open commons of information. He said that related bits of knowledge should be integrated and easily searched and shared via publicly-accessible databases on the web.

"It's really about building a network culture for knowledge," he said.

For example, he said that searching for all the potential gene targets for Alzheimer's disease should be as easy as it is to search for a hotel online. He claimed that the technology to integrate data already used by wealthy institutions, including the pharmaceutical industry, but many researchers cannot take advantage of it due to their lack of access or because they can't afford information protected by copyright or patents.

"The participatory culture on the web hasn't really made it into the sciences yet," said Wilbanks.

He believes that a network that is open to as many people as possible and may boost the chance of someone in the network connecting information in a way that causes a revolution in knowledge.

He said that a large number of researchers are currently rewarded for publications and patents rather than sharing, which according to Wilbanks, has led to a world of "over-atomised" disconnected knowledge that is hampering innovations.

He has suggested that a science commons could boost the chance of knowledge revolutions by reducing the cost of taking risks, freeing up researchers to ask big questions and to generate and test lots of hypotheses quickly.

"There are 10,000 questions you can ask about signal transduction and neurones. I would like to have all 10,000 questions asked every day," he said.

He shared his views in a keynote address to the Open Access and Research Conference held in Brisbane last week,

ANI

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