Another role for Open Science

When I teach BIO101 I usually give at least one assignment that entails finding a biology-related article, writing a short summary of it and explaining the gist of it to the rest of the class. We did that this Monday and the students picked, as usual, some interesting topics (including some that take us way outside of the scope of the course, e.g., game theory and Evolutionarily Stable Strategies). The sources, as usual, are popular science magazines like American Scientist (the last one that is still of high quality, I’m afraid to say), Scientific American, Discover, Natural History, etc.
One of the students talked about the research on butterflies and beetles by Emlen and Nijhout – if this happened just a week later, she could have used the brand new (and better written) article in Seed Magazine on this topic instead of a 1998 article from Discover.
But this year there was a first! One of the students reported on a paper she found online – where? On PLoS-Biology, of course. This paper about ‘Thermal Stress and Coral Cover as Drivers of Coral Disease Outbreaks’. And she did a good job understanding the paper (with a little help from an MSNBC article about it as well). Remember, this is someone with zero background in biology, being able to understand a true scientific paper, not just a popular science article. I was quite impressed!

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16 responses to “Another role for Open Science

  1. Absolutely. I’m not a professional scientist; but as a sort of afficionado, I do sometimes find myself tracking down and reading scientific papers online. The amount of freely available scientific data is not only informative, it’s awe-inspiring. But it makes me a bit spoiled – when I’m looking for a specific paper and find that it’s not freely available, it’s frustrating. I do think that it’s reasonable for government funding to be tied to a requirement to make resulting papers freely accessable.
    I think that free availability is in the interest of scientific advancement. I also think that sort of transparency is in the interest improving public perception by demystifying science. Even for those who will never read a scientific paper in their lives, it’s harder to maintain a view of science as a grand conspiracy when anyone with an internet connection has access to the same stores of knowledge as a professional scientist. Yay for Open Science!

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