Will John Wilbanks Launch the Next Scientific Revolution?

6 08 2007

Abby Seiff in PopSci

“Using innovative copyrights and a Web 2.0 platform, John Wilbanks may just transform how scientific discoveries are made”

When Pasteur had his eureka moment, the processes leading up to it were barely different than Archimedes’s. The scientist hypothesized, created his tools, and executed his experiments with little need for input from his colleagues. My, how things have changed. As science has become increasingly complex and interconnected, even the smallest a-ha instance demands that researchers spend the bulk of their time on grunt work—combing through relevant journal articles that are poorly annotated, begging colleagues for necessary materials (a biologist may need specific cell lines, for instance), and tracking down data sets. As scientific goals grow more multifaceted, the challenges for research and development lie not only in the experiments themselves, but also in the transfer of information among peers.

Enter John Wilbanks, executive director of the Science Commons initiative, and the six-year-old innovation of its parent organization, Creative Commons—an intelligent, understandable copyright that’s revolutionizing how everything from photos to publications are shared. Wilbanks and his team (which includes Nobel Prize winners Joshua Lederberg and John Sulston) are focused on three areas where roadblocks to scientific discovery are most common: in accessing literature, obtaining materials, and sharing data.

In June, Science Commons introduced a set of tools to allow authors greater control over papers published in scientific journals. And this week, Science Commons is expanding its Neurocommons project with the launch of an open-source research platform for brain studies. By using text-mining tools and analysis software to annotate millions of neurology papers, researchers worldwide can find relevant information in a matter of minutes.

PopSci spoke with Wilbanks about how copyright goes wrong and whether scientists can learn to share.

Interview is here

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