The lesson I learned from ENCODE is that projects like ENCODE are not a good idea.
American biology research achieved greatness because we encouraged individual scientists to pursue the questions that intrigued them and the NIH, NSF and other agencies gave them the resources to do so. And ENCODE and projects like it are, ostensibly at least, meant to continue this tradition, empowering individual scientists by producing datasets of “higher quality and greater comprehensiveness than would otherwise emerge from the combined output of individual research projects”.
But I think it is now clear that big biology is not a boon for individual discovery-driven science. Ironically, and tragically, it is emerging as the greatest threat to its continued existence.
The most obvious conflict between little science and big science is money. In an era when grant funding is getting scarcer, it’s impossible not to view the $200m spent on ENCODE in terms of the ~125 R01′s it could have funded. It is impossible to score the value lost from these hundred or so unfunded small projects against the benefits of one big one. But a awful lot of amazing science comes out of R01′s ...
One of the creeds of the open access movement is that free access to literature aides the transfer of knowledge from wealthier, better funded nations to researchers in developing nations. There is little to no doubt that increased access to research results has beneficial reverberations in several directions – but like many hypothetical benefits, they only work well if those on the receiving end can efficiently reap those benefits.
Dr. Prateek Buch is a research scientist and public engagement professional working to involve patients and the public in a world-leading research programme to develop gene and cell therapies for vision loss.
Today, researchers stand on the brink of a new age in scholarly publishing. Never before has science been so inundated with new findings, or have technical advances generated such mountains of data. Innovations sprout from labs the world over as humanity’s understanding of our universe grows. But that growth is only as robust as the system used to share disparate bits of knowledge, test and challenge reported advances, and remotely collaborate in scientific efforts. To keep up with the blistering pace of scientific and technological advances, publishers are getting creative. In recent years, new concepts such as post-publication peer review, all-scientist editorial teams, lifetime publishing privilege fees, and funder-supported open access have entered the publishing consciousness.
After dozens of Himalayan journeys, David Breashears began to notice that the glaciers were in rapid retreat. In 2007, Breashears formed GlacierWorks, a company that's creating an interactive Web site to allow viewers to navigate Himalayan landscapes constructed from terabytes of high-resolution images. Breashears and his GlacierWorks colleagues are now working with computer scientists and image experts at Microsoft Research to augment the images with numerous other layers of scientific data and models. Viewers will be able to peruse vistas from photos taken at eye level and learn about hydrology and how glaciers accumulate, lose ice, and flow down mountainsides. They'll also be able to manipulate climate models to see the effects on glacial melting and river flows in decades to come.
Put starkly, the day cannot be far away when there is an "app" that tells us what articles to read. I'm imagining a simple application that builds up a personalised profile of the research articles we read, and then uses that profile to predict what we are likely to want to read. Such devices are already informing us what music to listen to, what films to watch and what books to buy, so it can't be long before they are doing our research for us, too.
Imagine the ease of researching in a world where the research materials "find" us. Where we need only log in to see what we must read in order to complete a project. No more searching, no more wasting time reading the wrong things or looking in the wrong places, no more aimless flâneurs wandering around libraries or flicking through e-journals to see what they might find. None of this will be needed because the power of algorithms, as sociologist Scott Lash has put it, will be reshaping the academy. These algorithms will streamline, predict, make decisions for us and do work on our behalf, taking some of the agency from researchers and research processes - and making it their own.
This might sound like futurism, but the reality is that algorithms are already sorting the academy in lots of ways.
I've been quite speculative in suggesting that research articles will come to find their readers, but in many ways this is already the case with books. We need only to think of how Amazon's predictive algorithms already shape our encounters with academic books..."
TED Talks David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections.