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Why Open Science?

Published: 2017-03-04
Migrated: 2022-12-12

This weekend is a kick-off to a lot of cool hackathons I’m involved with such as the BrainHack Global, the first-ever Docathon, and a Working Open Workshop (WOW), all related to Open Science.

For BrainHack Global, we have scientists, engineers, designers, and enthusiasts get together to work on interesting projects related to neuroscience. I am co-organizing the SF site with a great team and we had a fun kickoff celebration last night.

I thought it would be a great time to repost this blog post (a few minor updates) we did at OpenBCI a few years ago that was inspired and spearheaded by Sarah during the KickStarter campaign for a cheaper, open-source EEG microcontroller.

In the media, we’ve been hearing a lot about the open-source movement from Apple’s Swift, Facebook’s AI Hardware Design, Google’s TensorFlow, just to name a few. The past few decades, there have been some shockwaves made in a push for Open Science. PLOS ONE, Frontiers, are a few of the open-access science journals created to tear down the paywall of scientific findings for fellow scientists and for the general public.

Below is a repost with permission from OpenBCI, who recently raised an astounding $168,829 on Kickstarter — over twice their initial goal!, on why we should do Open Science.

A few days ago we reached out to our network of friends and colleagues and we asked them “Why Open Science?”

Here’s what we heard back:

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Science allows us to understand the world where we live. Making it open means removing all the barriers that might reduce the accessibility to the knowledge to some part of the world population. Open Science should be the first aim of every researcher.

Davide Valeriani | BCI researcher @ University of Essex (UK)

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why open science:

Because there are problems that exist in the world that governments are not going to solve, that companies are not going to solve but that people, especially people working together can solve. Open science is rooted in the belief that knowledge and change can come from the bottom up.

zach lieberman | Co-founder School for Poetic Computation

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Why Open Science? Because we have to.

A democratic approach is inherent in all other forms of creativity. From music (think how hip-hop or rock&roll got started) and engineering (thousands of people have contributed to Linux) to entrepreneurship (teenagers and grandmothers have built remarkable companies), the freedom for anybody to contribute allows remarkable new ideas to take hold. Science is as creative in nature as any of these pursuits, and so a larger and more diverse the community means a better result for everybody.

Science is the latest area to be impacted by the digital and distributed collaborative communities. New recipes for success that we have seen in the web technology era are just now beginning to resonate with the traditional Academy. Look to how concept of credit is changing: publishing through established journals will always be important, but open access journals are growing rapidly (arXiv broke 1MM papers last year), blog posts are distributing ideas with repeatable experiments (code+data), and tools built from the community are distributed faster and easier than ever before. OpenBCI represents the best-in-class open source community that is charting new territory, connecting the maker and academic communities.

This open approach is how America innovates. Let’s go build some rad ****!

Daniel Goodwin | PhD Candidate at MIT Media Lab’s Synthetic Neurobiology Group

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For me, it started with a search or two on the internet about Imagined Speech (Thought Recognition). I clicked the first article and much to my dismay, I was completely lost. I had never heard of these concepts and couldn’t read this new math. Enough searches later, I stumble upon an open source community called NeuroTechX; within hours I am talking with PhDs and ordering all their book recommendations. What unfolds before me is a giant network of brilliant people working together to solve problems never solved before.

One person working alone will never unlock the secrets of the brain. However, people networked together in an online community form a vehicle for innovation fueled by passion. It’s captivating, encouraging, and above all, promising. Together we can. I push for open science because it fosters an organic environment for exponential growth, plus it’s a fantastic change of pace when everyone on your team pulls their weight.

Name: AJ Keller | Founder of Push The World

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The only prerequisite for wanting to engage in science as a career, hobby or passion should be curiosity and a love of knowledge. Never before in the history of the world has knowledge been more accessible on any topic. However, despite this revolution in the dissemination of information, our society is making accessibility to formal training less and less accessible. This is nothing short of a disaster for the world of science, because it limits the pool of talent that scientists can draw on to find amazing collaborators and drive forward discovery. Traditional scientific models are falling behind in the way that they communicate scientific learning and discovery: journal articles cost large amounts of money to view or purchase, community outreach is limited, and individuals or groups that attempt to make a message more accessible to a wider audience are typically criticized by colleagues for oversimplifying an issue. It is little wonder that in such an environment, science funding is at a critically low level.

Open Science represents an emerging movement that I believe is a direct response to this difficult environment: the idea that maybe you can make scientific contributions without formal training. Open Science is such an exciting movement because it operates outside of the self-defined confines of traditional scientific environments, and can more easily and nimbly interact with industry, art, and any other industry that may be able to enhance the impact or scope of someone’s dream project. I am excited to see the Open Science movement grow and gain momentum worldwide, and I am truly delighted and proud to support OpenBCI’s contribution to the Open Science movement: these guys have truly created a paradigm shift by democratizing quality EEG recording and giving the masses unprecedented access to their brain rhythms!

David Putrino, PhD, PT | Director of Telemedicine And Virtual Rehabilitation at Burke Medical Research Institute

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Open Science is for the 6 year old me who took apart my first computer and broke it and wish there were resources available (before real internet). Open Science is for the 15 year old me who used to stay up late at night online with my friend Cindy to read and watch videos on “How Stuff Works”. Open Science is for 20 year old me who was self-taught to program from stackoverflow, videos, and blog posts. Open Science is for 23 year old me who knew very little about processing brain data but was encouraged and taught through the open-source community, MNE-Python. Open Science is still for me and it has become a part of who I am as I contribute to open-source communities, learn from others, and help pass on knowledge for the greater good.

Teon Brooks | Mozilla Science Lab Fellow @ Stanford University | Core Contributor of MNE-Python | Co-Founder of OpenEXP

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Why open science? I think a better way to tackle this question is to ask: why would we close science? Taking this angle makes it very clear that openly sharing data, resources and discoveries in science is undeniably the best path forward.

So, why would we close science? A few reasons come to mind. First, ego. A hesitant scientist asks, “If I practice open science, how can I be sure that the credit will be assign to me? If I share my data, what if someone else finds something more interesting than my discovery, or worse, what if they find out that I did my analyses wrong?!?” While these are absolutely valid concerns (I’ve certainly had them myself), the fundamental objective of the scientific discovery process is to push forward our understanding of the world around us, for the sake of improving our lives, and the lives of others. Ego must be removed from this equation, as it only distorts the process.

Second, money. A skeptical developer asks, “If my code is open-source, can’t someone steal my ideas and profit from them? How will I make the money that I deserve?!?” Again, fair points. Not all code should necessarily be available to everyone. However, for code designed to promote scientific discovery, we are most powerful together. Open-source code promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration, which is not only useful, but necessary to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. Furthermore, there are clever business models taking that capitalize on the benefits of open-source development, while keeping parts of the most prized code closed.

Finally, history. That’s just the way it’s been done in the past. New models are scary and unpredictable. Popular appeal in the idea of open science is relatively recent, but it’s just a matter of time before it becomes the standard. As the benefits of open science are realized, I predict that we will reflect back on these times as the dark ages of innovation. The open future is here.

It’s undeniable that the open science model is making huge waves* in academia and industry alike: you can choose to ride that wave with us and push science forward, or be swept away by the strong currents of closed source.

*apologies for the nerdy pun, I couldn’t help myself 🙂

Andrew Heusser | Postdoctoral fellow @ Dartmouth College | Co-Founder of OpenEXP

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From a purely practical standpoint, open science is just better science. It’s easy to make mistakes as a scientist. There’s just no way to avoid them. A hundred pairs of eyes on your methods have to be better than just one or two, right? Similarly, a few hundred (thousand?) people will definitely find news ways to interpret your results. Maybe their interpretations will make more sense than yours did. That’s awesome.

Honestly, open science should really just be called “science.” Open science is the right way to do science. Science is supposed to be about challenging our assumptions, about making observations, and about finding new ways to explain the world. It’s not supposed to be about catering to funding agencies and reviewers. It’s not supposed to be hidden behind a paywall.

Melanie Segado | PhD Candidate in Neuroscience @ McGill University | Co-Founder NeuroTechX

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I choose Open Science because the planning and scheming of a few cannot possibly compete with the wonderfully diverse perspectives, skill sets and expertise of the many. Technology has given us access to the collective knowledge of the human race, it just makes sense to put it to good use.

David Hewlett | Upgrade Required

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We need open science to encourage non-traditional academic involvement in the scientific process. There is a rich tradition in math and astronomy of amateurs contributing to scientific literature. For example, the Hale Bopp comet was discovered by an amateur. The reason is that tools were easily available (pen and paper) or affordable (telescopes). Open science provides similar access to tools in other areas of science. The limit is now left to the creativity of the curious.

Greg Gage | CEO, Backyard Brains

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Science, at its core, pursues truth. Everyone is entitled to the truth. The scientist pursues truth with the aim of exposing it to the world. That’s the original reason to publish!

Once you have Open Science, people can build upon open ideas, which results in Open Engineering. This building-upon allows for the abstraction of specific techniques. Thus, people without expertise in the field can still comprehend and apply the abstractions to new, untapped areas.

Open Science + Engineering are the catalysts for intellectual development outside of a laboratory setting. It is bringing years of research afloat for everyone to enjoy and create with.

Open Science expands legacy. Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If you want to have a legacy, it is essential to be open. If you are closed, then as soon as you publish, your project ends. On the contrary, if you are open, it will survive. People will take it as a starting point 1, 10, 100 years from now.

Be open. Crouch down. Let people stand on your shoulders. They will see further.

Tomás Vega | Computer & Cognitive Science Student @ UC Berkeley | Co-Founder of the Cognitive Technology Group

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Open Science allows a better exchange of ideas. It helps transparency and creativity, and can make progress much quicker by allowing and promoting collaborations between people who do not necessarily know each other.

Ana Matran-Fernandez | BCI researcher and PhD candidate @ University of Essex | Co-founder of EyeWink

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Let’s close science. Let’s only make new discoveries in commercial labs, patent them, and restrict their use with exclusive licenses. Let’s publish our findings, but then keep our data to ourselves to make it impossible for others to reproduce it, to dissect it, to poke holes in it, and to offer better methodologies — why should someone else get the credit? Let’s take all the people searching for truth and send them away, let them make their own discoveries and build their own tools.

We’ll find ourselves very alone. We, as a society, will have to build the same tools thousands of time, make the same discoveries thousands of times, run the same tedious experiments thousands of times. We’ll each be holding one piece to a puzzle of incomprehensible size. Then we’ll die. Newcomers will be shut out, discouraged, and will make no progress.

Or, let’s not…

Let’s instead put aside our personal goals and our egos and work toward societal level goals. We’ve already been doing this, but we can remove even more barriers with open hardware, open software, and reproducible data. We live in a time now where anyone can access knowledge and make scientific contributions, even without formal training. Science is something we can all do.

William Wnekowicz | CloudBrain | NeuroTechSF | Indiegogo

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Why open-science? As the saying goes: two heads are better than one. An open-source structure is the best way to share knowledge and accelerate progress. Collaboration in the open makes it possible to share information more efficiently. Today, we are lucky to have open-source tools that make open research possible — the OpenBCI community is a great example of that. But while this is true for DIY bio-sensing tech, it’s happening in many other domains. Take the field of AI, for example. Numenta was one of the first machine intelligence company to open-source its algorithms. Today, companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft are all jumping on the open-source bandwagon and are opening up their deep learning frameworks. Why? Because big scientific goals like cracking machine intelligence are so big that collaboration is necessary if you want to attract top talent and push the boundaries of research. Now that so many of fields are joining the open-source ranks. Cross-pollination will lead to major scientific breakthroughs. Get ready for the upcoming open-science supernova 🙂

Marion Le Borgne | Senior Software Engineer @ Numenta | CloudBrain | Co-founder NeuroTechX

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Broadening access to something valuable is always a sign of progress. Since science is perhaps the greatest invention of mankind, sharing it with the world and inviting everyone to co-create our future is an obligation we are finally starting to meet. It is a hugely exciting and inspiring endeavour. At the same time, it is also a vitally important one because now, more than ever before, great ideas are needed to address the challenges we face and the best ideas respect no disciplinary, institutional or other boundaries. They are out there in the world. Therefore, Open Science is the way forward!

Imre Bard | PhD student @ The London School of Economics | Founder @ Hack the Brain UK

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Open Science puts incredible tools into more hands. Each discipline approaches problems in different ways and brings with it unique values and insights. Speaking from the perspective of building design, values such as accessibly, inclusiveness and a nuanced understanding of embodied human experience get incorporated into details large and small — from the height of a railing to the texture on a surface. By opening scientific methods and tools to a broader array of actors, including designers, Open Science allows us to bring these values to a whole new range of problems and opportunities. It’s transformative for our discipline, but we would hope that the exchange goes both ways, with the possibility to reshape the tools as their scope of applications widen.

Open source projects such as OpenBCI, Graffiti Research Labs’s EyeWriter, or even Google’s TensorFlow allow us to adopt new methods for producing design as well as open up new inquiries into how design actually works. With these unprecedented tools we can gather clues and inferences into the subjective experience of building occupants. We can look at how people gather information about their environment and how the physical space affects our sense of comfort, agency and even well-being. Open Science brings these possibilities out of the lab and into “the wild”, where they can make an even more profound difference — even to shape the environment itself.

Mark Collins | Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation | Co-Director, GSAPP Cloud Lab

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Open Science is a commitment to exploring the unknown, and sharing what you find — for the sake of communal knowledge, and equal opportunity to contribute the never-ending expedition forward.

In 2011, I started my journey of an open approach to studying the mind and the brain. Four years later, I am still on that journey — with OpenBCI. If you’re curious about the Brain (the Citadel of Consciousness). Understanding it. Protecting it. Extending it. Creating it. Sharing it… It starts here. Together.

Open Science All The Way!

Conor Russomanno | Co-Founder & CEO @ OpenBCI | NeuroTechNYC | Part-Time Faculty Parsons MFADT & NYU ITP

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Science is experimentation, exploration, and discovery. The work of scientists need to be open for others to learn, duplicate, and expand on their work. The more accessible research and method are, the faster verification innovation and advance can proceed. Scientific knowledge is part of our intellectual commons, it needs to be open for all.

Joel Murphy | Co-Founder & President of OpenBCI | Co-Founder of World Famous Electronics, makers of Pulse Sensor

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A special thanks to Sarah Bakanosky for coming up with the idea of reaching out to all of these folks. : )

This might very well be the most epic post we’ve ever put together.

The OpenBCI Team

Originally published at on December 23, 2015.



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