04 December 2006

Open Science or Free Science?

The open science meme is rather in vogue at the moment. But Bill Hooker raises an interesting point (in a post that kindly links to a couple items on this blog):

should we be calling the campaign to free up scientific information (text, data and software) "Free Science", for the same reasons Stallman insists on "Free Software"?

Interestingly, there is another parallel here:

Just as free software gained the alternative name "open source" at the Freeware Summit in 1998, so free open scholarship (FOS), as it was called until then by the main newsletter that covered it - written by Peter Suber, professor of philosophy at Earlham College - was renamed "open access" as part of the Budapest Open Access Initiative in December 2001. Suber's newsletter turned into Open Access News and became one of the earliest blogs; it remains the definitive record of the open access movement, and Suber has become its semi-official chronicler (the Eric Raymond of open access - without the guns).


Unknown said...

Hi Glyn,

As far as i understand "History of Science" (which some may argue is not much), i don't think Science was ever done in any other way that was not free (in the RMS kind of way).

Actually, i'd go as far as saying even more: The whole Free Software movement is, in many ways, a reflection of this, in the sense that the "Digital Revolution" was able to shorten the "distance" between "science" and "technology", for example: A Graph Theory expert could go on and write his/hers own version of a Compiler or Web Browser; something that would simply be unimaginable before, which made Graph Theory seem like complete and utter abstract "nonsense".

Thus, in this very clear way (shortening the distance between "science" and "technology"), the new "digital technologies" (that powered the "Free Software" movement) offered a new venue of "liberation" and "production" whereby the old "abstract thinkers" could, now, apply their knowledge in a very sharp way.

And, in this very fashion, the Free Software movement has just reflected the views of those "scientists". It's just that computers are a much more concrete road than High Energy Physics. Some 200 years ago, when Maxwell "invented" ElectroMagnetism (EM), things were not so different and there was a lot of skepticism to what its [EM] properties were and how it could be used. Our modern society would simply not exist without EM... Ditto for Quantum Mechanics.

Our modern and new "digital tools" are just nice "vehicles" of expression for many of those abstract ideas... and, sure enough, they carry the "ideals" of those who "invented" them. ;-)

Daniel Doro Ferrante.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that interesting (and deep) comment. I quite agree: science was definitely an inspiration to RMS, and free software is indeed a kind of "quick" science.

But the point the original post was making (and which I picked up on) was that people are tending to call things "open science" - ignoring the ethical aspect, just as they do when talk exclusively about open source. So, in that sense, maybe we *ought* to call it free science, even if that is nothing new.

Daniel Doro Ferrante said...

Hi Glyn,

I'm sorry i didn't make my point clearer from the start: Yes, i do agree with you, it definitely should be Free Science.

And, i'm afraid to say, in Science things are not as "pragmatic" as they are in the Free × Open Software battle: If you drop the ethical aspects of Science, the results can be quite devastating.

However, as many things in life, there is "Science" and "science"... and, some 'scientists' (which have clear "technological" applications out of their work, from vaccines and new drugs to a faster webbrowser) are worried about their "patents" and how they'll "secure" [in some sense] their "intelectual products". We're still a bit far from the realization, as a society, that there is no such security, even more so for a "globalized" world.

Daniel Doro Ferrante.

Glyn Moody said...

The trouble is, I fear getting "free science" accepted will be even harder than getting people to talk about "free software"....