This just in… some physicists tried to negotiate a Wiki-friendly rights agreement with a big physics journal (Physical Review Letters). It seems that posting ones’ work on Wikipedia violates copyright agreements as currently written, because that counts as a “derivative work”. The journal decided not to publish the paper, but the physicists have gotten the journal to review its copyright policy. You can read the Slashdot article or the New Scientist article.

I think it’s a good thing to move towards more public access to scientific work — within certain limits. After all, the public is paying for the lion’s share of much of this work (through taxpayer dollars that go to the NSF and other grant-funding agencies), and yet it’s incarcerated inside expensive little journals that are only available to academics. There is an entire Open Source movement for scientific work, which exists in a couple of forms. One simply aims to publish scientific work in freely-accessible journals — termed “open access”. Blog Around the Clock has a whole section on Open Access.

Another interesting form of Open Source is through the Creative Commons folks themselves (they’re the ones who make the open-copyright licenses for using works, such as music, freely). They’ve got a site called Science Commons which aims to make the tools necessary for creating science more freely accessible — such as data and custom-created software. They’ve created a beta proof-of-concept website for Neuroscience.

From their website:

Many scientists today work in relative isolation, left to follow blind alleys and duplicate existing research. Data is balkanized — trapped behind firewalls, locked up by contracts or lost in databases that can’t be accessed or integrated. Materials are hard to get — universities are overwhelmed with transfer requests that ought to be routine, while grant cycles pass and windows of opportunity close. It’s not uncommon for research sponsors to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in critically important efforts like drug discovery, only to see them fail.

The consequences in many cases are no less than tragic. The time it takes to go from identifying a gene to developing a drug currently stands at 17 years — forever, for people suffering from disease.

Science Commons has three interlocking initiatives designed to accelerate the research cycle — the continuous production and reuse of knowledge that is at the heart of the scientific method. Together, they form the building blocks of a new collaborative infrastructure to make scientific discovery easier by design.

Making scientific research “re-useful” — We help people and organizations open and mark their research and data sets for reuse. Learn more.

Enabling “one-click” access to research materials — We help streamline the materials-transfer process so researchers can easily replicate, verify and extend research. Learn more.

Integrating fragmented information sources — We help researchers find, analyze and use data from disparate sources by marking and integrating the information with a common, computer-readable language. Learn more.