Fostering Open Science


Recently, I participated in a workshop on Open Science: Driving Forces and Practical Realities. The idea to make scientific research, data and information accessible to the public isn’t new and arguably has historical roots dating back to the late 1600s, when academic journal publishing began. But it’s particularly timely today in light of the rapid increase in the volume of data and the value it has to the public.

During the workshop, we explored the technical, financial, political and cultural forces that drive open science and how these forces impact information sharing, re-use, interoperability and the preservation of the scientific record. I also talked about NIH’s ongoing commitment to open science.

In 2003, NIH created a Data Sharing Policy, and, in 2008, it issued a Public Access Policy for publications. A Genomic Data Sharing Policy is currently in draft form. All of these documents communicate the need to ensure public access to the relevant biomedical data, information and publications that are a result of federally funded biomedical research.

In addition to establishing these guidelines, NIH funds projects that foster open science, including the RCSB Protein Data Bank , The Cancer Genome Atlas, The Cancer Imaging Archive , the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse  and PhysioNet . NIH is also playing a role in crowdsourced projects, such as the systems biology-related Dialogue for Reverse Engineering Assessments and Methods challenges (no longer available), as well as projects to develop common languages for research, such as the Common Data Element Resource Portal. Another exciting NIH-funded initiative is the Medical Device “Plug and Play” Interoperability Program , which aims to create cost-effective and innovative third-party medical “apps” for clinical diagnosis, treatment, research and safety.

In preparing my presentation for the recent workshop, I recalled the day when I heard about the biomedical community taking a quantum leap forward into open science. It was the early spring of 1996, and I was eating lunch with my graduate student and postdoc colleagues. We were discussing the International Large-Scale Sequencing Meeting and the resulting “Bermuda principles” for the release of data generated by the Human Genome Project. We were particularly excited to learn that scientists associated with that project had unanimously agreed that all genomic sequencing data should be freely available and in the public domain prior to publication.

Nearly 20 years later, the move toward open science continues to offer a forum for scientists–from fields that range from astronomy and physics to medical and clinical research–to discuss policies and practical tools for collaboration. It also allows the community to come together and tackle the challenges and unique opportunities of sharing science in a truly collaborative way. I invite you all to join me in the discussion and in furthering progress in this important area.

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