Michael Nielsen: SPARC Innovator

Sometimes good things happen to good people and this is certainly the case.

Michael Nielsen has been named a SPARC Innovator for 2012.

I don't usually do awards announcements here but I've made exceptions in the past for friends and I'm doing that again today.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition has a program called the SPARC Innovators that twice a year recognizes innovations in the field.

The SPARC Innovator program is a new initiative that recognizes an individual, institution, or group that exemplifies SPARC principles by working to challenge the status quo in scholarly communication for the benefit of researchers, libraries, universities, and the public. SPARC Innovators are featured on the SPARC Web site semi-annually.

SPARC Innovators are named by the SPARC staff in consultation with the SPARC Steering Committee. Individuals can nominate their colleagues as potential SPARC Innovators at http://www.arl.org/sparc/innovator/nominate.shtml. Criteria include but are not limited to a commitment to:

  • Reducing barriers to access, sharing, and use of scholarship, particularly in the scientific research field;
  • Advancing the understanding and implementation of open access to research results;
  • Working to create a balanced scholarly communication system;
  • Use of technology to develop alternative publishing and communication solutions;
  • Refusing to be constrained by the status quo and implementing new and creative ideas that are backed by research;
  • Vision of the library as a focus for and/or supporter of change;
  • The belief that individual actions can have a profound and positive impact in the scholarly communication field.

A SPARC Innovator can be an individual, a group of people, an institution, or another group that has been active in the areas listed above. Their actions may be broadly defined and may include online activity (i.e., postings on listservs and Web sites); on-campus programs and conferences; writing and editing (i.e., articles and books); promoting awareness and activism among others; and creating technologies and/or programs. There is no monetary award for SPARC Innovators.

For further information, please see the SPARC Web site at http://www.arl.org/sparc/.

I can't imagine a more fitting exemplar for the open science movement from the second half of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 that Michael Nielsen. With the publication of his book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science and his long and arduous Open Science World Tour/Book Promotional Tour, it's a great way to recognize his contributions.

The SPARC site has a great profile, which I was delighted to contribute to. It's well worth checking out the whole thing.

Michael Nielsen tours like a rock star.

But the 37-year-old, Australian quantum physicist rejects the notion that he is a rock star of Open Science. "There are many, many people who are doing this, as it should be," says Nielsen, listing other thinkers in the field. "It's not a concept that anybody owns. It goes back to the 17th century." For real change to happen in the culture of science, he says, it will take more than one or a few people; it will take thousands working together.

While Nielsen is not alone in promoting the open sharing of data and research to advance science, he has been in the spotlight this fall as an advocate for the cause. The Open Society Foundations supported sending him on an awareness-raising tour on Open Science. In three months, Nielsen did 33 talks in 17 cities - from small gatherings of high school students in Lithuania to a 1,000-plus audience in Canada. (The recording on ted.com of his presentation at TEDxWaterloo has received more than 150,000 hits.)


"What Michael has done is taken the time to think deeply and really sort out what the major issues are that need to be considered - and what are the sidetracks," says Cameron Neylon, a biochemist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, England, whose path has crossed with Nielsen in open-access advocacy. "He's very much a synthesizer and integrator of ideas and concepts. He can identify trends and understand the larger context that they fit into."

Nielsen is able to describe and articulate complex issues through stories in a way that opens people's minds and leads important discussions, says Neylon. "He's provided a level of intellectual rigor and framework that has allowed the community to move rapidly from a disparate group of individuals and institutions through to where there is a clear understanding of what the position are," he says. "He's really sharpened the message."

I interviewed Michael about his new book a little while back.


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