Why open science failed after the gulf oil spill
Connotea Imports 2012-03-11
"At last month's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of science, there was an inspiring talk about how the open sharing of scientific data could provide new avenues for research. But the same session also provided a cautionary tale of all the factors that can get in the way of effective sharing of data. That talk came courtesy of Vernon Asper, a researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi....Asper said that there was a clear "truth" about the spill that everybody was interested in: how much oil was spilling into the Gulf, and at what rate. But, in the absence of any way of directly measuring it, everybody was forced into relying on indirect ways of estimating the flow. If the gulf oil spill were a situation where nobody had money riding on the final outcome, these estimates might be combined to provide a rough final number along with a sense of the uncertainty associated with that number. Unfortunately, this wasn't a case where nobody cared. According to Asper, there were three groups that had a vested interest in the final value of the amount of oil spilling out into the gulf. The companies (like BP and Halliburton) that had been drilling the well wanted the number to be small. The media, which can attract eyeballs through drama, wanted the number to be large. Scientists, in general, just wanted the actual number. Here, the scientists shared an ally in the government, which also wanted the most accurate number possible. Unfortunately, the government and scientists had different ideas about what to do with the numbers they were generating. Researchers, as is their tendency, wanted to share it through collaborations and publications. The government, however, was preparing for the inevitable court case against the companies involved, and wanted to keep the numbers it generated private until they could be used in the legal arena...."