Open Access Science: Back to the Future?

I just read this article currently featured on Scientific American Magazine’s website examining the risks and benefits of the so-called Science 2.0, also known as Open Access Science.  

“Science 2.0 generally refers to new practices of scientists who post raw experimental results, nascent theories, claims of discovery and draft papers on the Web for others to see and comment on,” writes M. Mitchell Waldrop.

Are we witnessing a potential, fundamental shift in how science will intersect with society in general?

 

Although Science 2.0 aims to create a platform for scientists to collect, share and react to knowledge, the greatest (accidental?) outcome may be a new era of public trust in science.  Because Science 2.0 is accessible to anyone on the Web,  research and conversations –so often confined to laboratories and academic conferences–are accessible to the public. Anyone interested can tap into the conversation.

Back in the Ben Franklin era, science (or “philosophy” as it was known) was as much a topic of dinner-time conversation as sports and politics are today. Somewhere along the line, science was delineated from the masses. (I don’t know enough about the history of science to explain why. If you do, tell us! How did this happen? Who did this? We want names!)

Unfortunately, the separation of science from the public resulted in our current state of illiteracy and mistrust.

Science 2.0 might just be the ticket needed to enable scientists and citizens to ask questions,  express concerns, and exchange viewpoints. Right off the bat, I see two critical items needed for this to happen:

1) Context: Science 2.0 might benefit from a moderator of sorts. A translator to bridge the communication gap between the public and the scientists, and between the (often super-specialized) scientists themselves.

2) The science establishment will need to feel comfortable practicing what they preach: science builds upon science; the sum is greater than its parts; think global. And focus far less on issues of copyrights, authorships and the barometer of “credible” science: publishing research in peer-reviewed journals before breathing a word to anyone else. 

Can we use Science 2.0 to travel back to the future where discussions of science are as commonplace as guessing who will be America’s Next Top Model?