PAGE 3 OF 6
Michael Eisen, a fan and originator of open-access
publishing, is convinced that the scientific community
is ready for Science 2.0.
Through a blog, “anyone can eavesdrop on a conversation scientists may be having,” says Matthew Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University whose research—and daily blog Framing Science—focus “on the intersections of science, media, and politics.” The advantage is twofold: bloggers promote improved public understanding of how science ticks; and they can present their own ideas to other researchers and get feedback. Presently, most of that data is posted only after it has been formally published elsewhere. Nisbet adds that scientists are a bit behind in the blogosphere when compared to the prevalence of political bloggers, but some science sites generate big traffic. Pharyngula, run by University of Minnesota biologist Paul Myers, attracts 1.5 million visitors a month. It is one of 60 or so blogs hosted by Seed Media Group's Scienceblogs.com.
Blogs also provide a platform for the meeting of scientific minds, says University of Iowa epidemiologist Tara Smith. Her Aetiology blog, where she discusses everything from AIDS issues to the anthrax attacks to fossilized dinosaur bacteria, helped her connect with Yale University neurologist Steven Novella. The two recently collaborated to publish a paper about AIDS misinformation on the Internet (propagated in large part by those who deny that HIV causes the disease) and the need for scientists to do a better job of tracking and rebutting it.
The current extreme of collaboration via Science 2.0 is OpenWetWare.org. Begun in 2003 by Austin Che, who was then a computer science and biology graduate student at MIT, this biological-engineering Website uses the wiki model to showcase protocols and lab books: everything is open and can be edited by any of its 4,000 members.
OpenWetWare (OWW) is now overseen by Stanford University bioengineering professor Drew Endy, until recently at MIT. “I was the permissive adult who didn't say no” to the idea, he recalls, even though he didn't know much about wikis at the time: “When I did my Ph.D., I had to go to the library and collect papers.”
But Endy quickly saw the power of the open online concept. OWW carries lab experiment protocols on everything from DNA precipitation to electrophoretic mobility shift assays. Particularly intriguing are the open lab notebooks that outline experiments, whether successful or not, in their entirety. It's a novel concept, and one that demands an attitude adjustment among researchers.
Harvard Medical School systems biologist Pam Silver, an early convert to OWW, has all of her experiments and protocols on the site. “I think it has made my lab members feel that they are part of a larger community of scientists who share ideas,” she says, “and that their research can move forward
more quickly.” Silver maintains that the freeflowing interactions on OWW have contributed to her work in bioenergy and her educational efforts in systems biology. “I always encourage people to be as open as possible,” she says. “No one has to join OpenWetWare, but that's where the cool people are.”
Photo: Noah Berger / AP, ©HHMI