Royal Society launches study on openess in science

13 May 2011

Why should the public trust scientists?  That is the question that lies at the heart of a study launched today (Friday 13 May) by the Royal Society.

Science as a public enterprise: opening up scientific information will look at how scientific information should best be managed to improve the quality of research and build public trust.

Professor Geoffrey Boulton FRS, chair of the working group undertaking the study said:

 “Science has always been about open debate. But incidents such as the UEA email leaks have prompted the Royal Society to look at how open science really is.  With the advent of the Internet, the public now expect a greater degree of transparency. The impact of science on people’s lives, and the implications of scientific assessments for society and the economy are now so great that  people won’t just believe scientists when they say “trust me, I’m an expert.” It is not just scientists who want to be able to see inside scientific datasets, to see how robust they are and ask difficult questions about their implications. Science has to adapt.”

The study will look at questions such as:

  • What are the benefits and risks of openly sharing scientific data?
  • How does the rise of the blogosphere change scientific research?
  • What responsibility should scientists, their institutions and the funders of research have for open data?
  • How do we make information more accessible and who will pay to do it?
  • Should privately funded scientists be held to the same standards as those who are publicly funded?
  • How do we balance openness against intellectual property rights and in the case of medical information how do protect patient confidentiality?
  • Will the same rules apply to scientists across the world?

Professor Boulton continued:

“Different scientific disciplines share their information very differently.  The human genome project was incredibly open in how data were shared. But in biomedical science you also have drug trials conducted where no results are made public.”

The main focus of the report will be on open data but input will also be sought on how the work of scientists is communicated by others such as the media, interest groups and the blogosphere.  The working group recognises the importance of this aspect of public debate and will look at how science can best play its part in making it work.

An article co authored by working group members: Professor Geoffrey Boulton, Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of NICE, Patrick Vallance, Senior Vice President, Medicines Discovery and Development at GlaxoSmithKline and Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust will be published in the May 14 issue of The Lancet.