Open Science and Access to Medical Research | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network 2012-08-20


“It is rather odd how often I hear the expression paradigm shift during contemporary scientific presentations and seminars. The expression was popularized by Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In that book, Kuhn referred to ground-breaking and revolutionary changes in scientific thought as paradigm shifts, but the expression is so over-used today that even minor discoveries are sometimes marketed as paradigm shifts. However, once in a while a true paradigm shift does come along and I believe we are currently witnessing such an emerging paradigm shift: open science. This concept entails that research results should be freely and openly accessible to the broad scientific colleagues as well as the public. The idea of open science goes beyond merely providing public access to published scientific articles because it also includes offering access to the original research data. This would permit fellow researchers to help evaluate and analyze the results, so that the broader scientific community as well as the public can weigh in on the interpretation of the scientific findings. This aspect of open science likely does qualify for being a true paradigm shift, because it will require that we think of ourselves as part of research communities and usher in ‘networked discovery’, as has been described in a recent book by Michael Nielson and discussed by Bora Zivkovic. There are still many obstacles that need to be addressed before ‘open science’ becomes generally accepted. Academic publishers currently reap significant profits from selling high-priced annual subscriptions to academic institutions, and they would lose this income if scientists started publishing their results in open-access journals... Marc Kuchner recently wrote about how individual academic careers are currently built on marketing or branding oneself as a leader in defined research areas. If data and research methodologies are openly shared, it becomes much harder for individual investigators to take credit for discoveries and succeed in the competitive academic rat-race... Nevertheless, under pressure from the public and funding agencies that rightfully demand public access to the results of the funded research, it is likely that our current research culture will change... we will have to develop new infrastructures to share scientific data, novel ways to assess academic success and reward contributions of individual scientists as well as establish high quality open access journals in a variety of scientific areas. Clinical research is often funded by the private industry and may thus evade mandates of public funding agencies or not-for-profit foundations to publish in open access journals and openly share results. But even publicly funded biomedical research is characterized by some unique challenges. One such challenge is the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality when it comes to data sharing... There is another critical obstacle that needs to be addressed when open science is implemented in medical research. The primary target audience for basic research that is not related to medicine or health consists of fellow scientists and science journalists... Many healthcare providers such as practicing physicians do not have a scientific background and are not necessarily trained to critically evaluate research data. They currently rely on review articles or meta-analyses published in respected journals, but they are also influenced by scientific data that are presented to them by representatives or consultants for the pharmaceutical industry. At first glance, open access to original data sets should increase the transparency of research. However, if we remember the adage that “we only see what we want to see”, we have to realize that open access to research data will also create an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies or for-profit hospitals to promote medical therapies on the basis of limited scientific data. Selective reporting of the publicly available data by special interest groups could find an excellent breeding ground among emotionally vulnerable patients or healthcare providers who may be easily swayed by the plight and hopes of their patients... most of our scientific colleagues (voluntarily or after peer-review) highlight the limitations of their studies. If the data is publicly available, the data would be open to variant interpretations, even by members of the community who are not trained to appropriately interpret the data. The solution to these potential issues that may arise when we transition to an open science format is not to limit the access of the data. Instead, it is imperative that concomitant with the creation of an open science environment we also build independent institutions or organizations that help interpret the available the data in a manner that non-scientists are able to receive accurate and solid information about the nature and significance of the results... I believe that the time for open science and networked discovery has arrived and that it will definitely enhance the progress of



08/16/2012, 06:08

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Date tagged:

08/20/2012, 18:07

Date published:

04/24/2012, 17:21