Rachel Harding, a postdoctoral fellow at the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), is a pioneer of open source science; she makes her lab notes available online as she writes them. Harding uses a wide variety of online platforms in real time to speed up the findings of research in a potentially revolutionary method of scientific communication.
“The more a community communicates, critiques and collaborates on research, the faster and more effective[ly] you should be able to answer scientific questions,” Harding points out in an interview with The Varsity.
Harding’s research focuses on the development of therapeutic agents for Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that is currently incurable. She believes the initiative will lead to “better dialogue,” and “improve real-time peer review,” while “develop[ing] therapeutics more rapidly.”
Open source science involves sharing real time lab notes in their raw form online. Its emergence followed the success of the collaborative developments in open source software (OSS).
A primary concern raised by open source initiatives is the inability to patent published works, which can lead to possible research theft and a lack of investment.
“Researchers are under pressure to publish in high impact peer-reviewed journals in order to get the next stage of funding/fellowships, however, I am not sure this is how to do the best science,” Harding admits.
The SGC is a globally renowned research institution, known for its open access policy and initiatives. In order for Harding to release her notes, she needs the approval of the SGC and the source of her research funding.
Harding posted her first installment of methods and data in real time on Zenodo, a platform hosted at CERN, which allows researchers to share their work online. On the same day, she posted her first set of lab notes on Lab Scribbles and Twitter.
“This is the next step [to practicing open source science]. We don’t know if this process will work. We are planning to study my open notebook to see if it really does all the things we hope [such as] community engagement, collaboration, faster research output and so forth,” Harding explained.
Raymond Hui, a principal investigator with the SGC and Jim Woodgett, the director of research at Mount Sinai Hospital are other pioneers of open source research initiatives. Both have been interested in open source science for a long time.
This past July, Hacklabs hosted Hui and Woodgett in order to discuss the benefits of open source science. During the talk Woodgett made several references to scientific methods and integrity. He warned against the many instances where scientific methods or results have not been reproducible.
Harding believes that open source science initiative encourages the true objective of scientific investigation. He states that science should be “more focused on answering the scientific questions relevant to our field rather than individual gain.”