Now We’re Talking!

August 16, 2010

It’s articles like the one recently published in the New York Times that so powerfully demonstrate the value of open source methods, in this case the value of data sharing and collaboration. The article “Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s” says it better than 100 blogivators ever could:

“The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement as ambitious as its goal: not just to raise money, not just
to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately,
available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world.

No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately
profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.

“It was unbelievable,” said Dr. John Q. Trojanowski, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s not science the way most of us have practiced it in our careers. But we all realized that we would never
get biomarkers unless all of us parked our egos and intellectual-property noses outside the door and agreed that
all of our data would be public immediately.”

What particularly struck me about this article was the underlying motivation for the project: the scale of the work was such that research scientists, the NIH and drug companies realized that they had to work together to accelerate progress on Alzheimer’s research. And if you have been following my blogs, you’ll know that I believe scalability is one of the five key reasons why open source methods are the way of future when it comes to scientific computing and research.

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