Open science: why is it so hard?

OK, I am becoming obsessed with Lemire’s blog. One more post from there now, and back to my own work I go. Incidentally, the book by Michael Nielsen discussed below is sitting in my queue of e-books I really should be reading yesterday. (Once again, I have snipped most of the text of the post, for which I strongly recommend that you visit the source.) And before I go, let me obey Lemire’s injunction and repeat: scholarship is not a publishing business.

Open science: why is it so hard?:



Thus, a much more significant vision is Nielsen’s open science. Michael Nielsen is arguing for a culture shift in science: from a science obsessed with individual performance (and publications) to a science culture resembling more that of open source software or wikipedia.

I fear however that despite all the (well deserved) press that Michael Nielsen’s latest book has been getting, too few people understand the importance of this shift. It is not about becoming hippies. It is not a socialist utopia. On the contrary, the system we have right now is akin to an highly regulated industry. All power is in the hands of the government and a few large organizations (universities, publishers) working in tandem. The barrier to entry is maintained artificially high. Open science is really about creating “open markets” with freer exchanges. It has the potential to boost our collective productivity by orders of magnitude through the removal of unneeded friction.


And we finally get a hint at why it is so hard it is to open up science: the business of science has become intertwined with businesses like the publishing business. ACM has to speak both as an association of computing professionals, and as a publishing house.

What should be a critical support service, the publication of results, ends up driving much of our culture. The journals become the science. The medium becomes the message.

In effect, we have too much organizational scarring tissue in science. It could be that we need to reboot the system. As a starting point, we should collectively recognize the problem. Repeat after me: scholarship is not a publishing business.

Further reading:


The ACM charges the authors of any conference for the publication of proceedings. However, they do not require payment for publishing in their journals: instead they request page charges.

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