The Primate Diaries

The Scientific Revolution is Open

Scientific innovation relies on open communication and always has. It has only been through the free exchange of information and ideas that scientific pioneers have expanded the boundaries of knowledge. Through books, pamphlets, letters, journals, and now blogs, scientists communicate their results and imagine new frontiers in the natural world. But even as we reach our highest point of scientific achievement have we failed to learn the lessons that history teaches?

The barriers to science have always come in the form of restricting information. Figures such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Vesalius and Darwin challenged the status quo with their ideas precisely because they had been inspired to investigate the world in a new way thanks to the work published by earlier visionaries. All faced official discrimination and the threat of censorship. However, because of the ethos of science with its commitment to open societies, open access and open communication, their ideas continued on to inspire others. The barriers to this communication have been challenged repeatedly over the centuries but still maintain their presence today. Only by being constantly vigilant and pressuring the institutions, both public and private, that represent a barrier to open access can scientific ideas continue to flourish.

John McKay and I will be leading a discussion on the history of our ongoing scientific revolution this Saturday at 3:15 (section C) as part of the ScienceOnline2010 conference in Durham, North Carolina. By presenting the developments in communication that have made the rise of science and reason possible we aim to show how increasing access to scientific ideas is one of the major tasks that lay before us. Some of the current barriers to the open-access movement come from places that we might not expect, but through this workshop we hope to inspire and inform a new movement of scientific innovators.