On the flip side of openness
January 12, 2009 3 Comments
In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, he says, “Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” His point is that while new technology is necessary for revolution, it is far from sufficient. The real shift occurs once the technology permeates society enough so that new behaviors come naturally. For Shirky, the revolution that is the social web came only after commoditization of the Internet and mobile messaging made connecting people on a global scale effortless and natural.
For proponents of nascent movements like open science, it is common to wonder why others can’t just change what they think or what they’re doing. We changed, after all. If only the incentive structure were different, we say, or if people could just understand why openness is better. If things would just change – why, we’d enter a golden age of science!
But changing people is difficult, and changing society even more so. While there can be immediately compelling reasons to change – skyrocketing gas prices, for example – broader, long-reaching change arises almost unconsciously. More importantly, it depends on the enabling technology becoming so familiar that the natural behavior is to use that technology.
For open science, there are clearly two sides to the coin. There is openness as a social construct – the willingness to be open – and there is openness as a technological construct – the ability to be open. Although some bold souls may embrace the former without clear demonstration of the latter, most people aren’t even aware that there is something to embrace. And without mature, ubiquitous technology, pleas to participate will go mostly unheeded.
Yes, some of the tools for making science more open are available. But, technologically speaking, we are still a long way from integrating them ubiquitously into the research process. Until we do, we cannot expect many scientists to go open. But as the technology improves, more scientists will go online to read papers, manage citations, and share files and write manuscripts with collaborators. And as more scientists go online to conduct aspects of their research, the technology will improve. When scientists can no longer imagine a better way to do science, we’ll know we have arrived.