Today’s scientists at universities are working on incredible cutting-edge research all across the globe, from self-healing materials that mimic biological processes to drone technology for agricultural monitoring. Unfortunately, apart from the periodic breaking headline, much of this research goes unnoticed. Even if research publications were readily available, much valuable data is still under study and not yet available in scientific papers. The bottom line is clear: academic research must become more open and publically accessible if we are to solve today’s most pressing global issues. An even bigger challenge lies to developing tools to accomplish this and creating incentives for increased global collaboration.
As the world population continues to skyrocket, our impacts are increasingly being seen on a global level. Our actions affect natural resources, climate, water cycles, and even our own health. These effects are not restricted to national boundaries, but the methods currently used to disseminate scientific data on these issues are. Sir Mark Walport, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, is part of a growing trend to solve this issue by pushing for more openness between scientists and policymakers. He explains,
“As our economies, our societies, our health and wellbeing become increasingly globalized, science advice needs to become much more international in its outlook.”
This is especially relevant when it comes to global environmental issues, most notably sustainable energy sourcing and agricultural biotechnology.
Many organizations today are seeking to bridge the daunting gap between academia and the public. Discussions are being held to uncover ways to increase the accessibility of research, especially in the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020. Other initiatives, like the Open Source Science Project, provide a space for academic researchers to propose and conduct research projects with funding support from a global online community. The recently launched OpenAG Project, run by MIT CityFARM, intends to be the first open source research collective for agricultural technology. The project seeks to make agricultural information more accessible by providing a global platform for researchers to share data and discuss findings. Ijad Madisch, founder of ResearchGate, is taking a broader approach for all disciplines. Currently boasting over 2.5 million users, the site offers a network for researchers to share scientific publications and source questions to collaborate with others across the globe.
Despite these initiatives, open source still has a long way to go. We not only need to greatly increase the quantity of what is published, but the quality. We must develop a way to sort through this surplus of information to find relevant and beneficial information. However, a large portion of valuable data is not yet published, but still contained within the research process. Scientists will also need incentives to collaborate with others and broadcast their ideas and data. As MIT Professor Donald Sadoway advocates, researchers today need to focus on "science as a service to society as oppose to career building.” The solution to today’s most pressing issues will require the collaboration of all, including scientists, policymakers, and the world’s citizens. Only when the disjuncture between academia and the public is closed can we begin to truly tackle today’s major global challenges.