Scientific research is exhaustive, time consuming, and often frustrating, especially when the results don’t turn out. What’s more, when publishing research articles, fellow scientists, colleagues, and the general public tend to be unaware of the amount of work put into the research, as the paper published only contains the best of the best in terms of results and findings. All the other data collected, the procedures used, the false starts, unpredictable mistakes and surprises that happen along the way go unnoticed, stored away in boxes to collect dust.
But why? Why do scientists hide 90% of what they do? Are they afraid of their research being stolen? Are they worried that others in the scientific community may criticize or challenge their findings? Or is it just that they have gotten so used to doing their research behind closed doors that they stopped looking for a new way to do things? Whatever the reason, it seems that scientists should be collaborating and brainstorming together, utilizing the community resources available in order to better their research.
Recently, I discovered CoLab. Founded by Casey Stark, a Ph.D. student in astrophysics, and DJ Strouse, a senior working towards a degree in physics and mathematics, this online science collaboration tool hopes to innovate the way scientists do their research work. The site aims to open-source science by having researchers post and update their work as they are working on it, rather than hiding their work until a journal picks up the polished manuscript.
While there are several reasons why this concept is so amazing and innovative, perhaps one of the best aspects is the potential to get help from the scientific community. Often with research, scientists stumble into areas that they know very little about, and when their research team can’t figure out the answer, some of these questions get ignored or tossed to the side. With CoLab, a research group could pose the questions to the community, and get answers quickly from some of the top scientists in the field. This could further add to their research, or even become the start of a new project.
CoLab could be the start of a new, better way of doing science. Unfortunately, the project has not been updated in a while, perhaps due to a lack of interest or a lack of time. With that said, hopefully if enough new interest is generated, the founders will update it, or perhaps hand off the project in an attempt to keep it going. Having research out in the open allows scientists to get help when they need it, get exposure for their work, perhaps even secure funding for their projects. CoLab could allow all of this to happen, given time, interest, and exposure. So I strongly encourage anyone interested (not just scientists!) to head over to their site, join, and help revive open source science!