Jeff Herman
Dec 8, 2011

Hope and innovation, not fear, should drive scientific transparency

From the horrific Tuskegee incident to the more recent autism scandal, the exposure of scientific fraud illuminates the need for full disclosure of data not only to scientific peers, but also to watchdog groups and the general public. Recently, on December 6, a debate in England (Is transparency bad for science?) examined if full disclosure of data is a necessary step for the evolution of the sciences or if it will detrimentally harm research.


Full disclosure is absolutely important and necessary for the survival and progression of science research; however, forcing full disclosure based on a possible fear of science fraud is the wrong approach.  By focusing on the negative, the science community as a whole is immediately put on the defensive. Of course, scientific fraud is atrocious and evil.  It can harm lives, cost countless millions of dollars and should be met with strict and fierce consequences; however, the incidence of fraud in the sciences is not as prevalent as many might fear, especially when compared to the millions of scientists that are honest and hard-working.


With a focus on fear and distrust, an honest scientist might become resentful and feel they are being treated unfairly.  They may wonder, even though fraud occurs throughout the workforce, why is only a scientist’s career being fully scrutinized?  What about a police officer, or a politician, or a construction worker or a clergyman? Shouldn’t everyone be forced to have full disclosure of their work?  In general people have a sense of fairness, and when that fairness is threatened, people begin to resist and fight back.  It’s human nature.


With that said, my personal belief in full disclosure of scientific research stems from a place of innovation and inspiration rather than a place of fear and distrust.  While one mind is an incredible tool, collective thought is unstoppable.  Similar to how the introduction of open source software and hacking helped the computer age explode across the landscape, giving us cool toys that we only dreamed of decades prior, this same mindset as applied to the science community, will rapidly bring mankind into a new age. 


By allowing multiple scientists as well as people from all walks of life to provide insight into a scientific conundrum, I will bet the farm that we, in my lifetime, will find clean effective alternative fuels, as well as a cure for all cancers, diabetes, kidney failure and heart disease.


This transition will not be easy. In the world of science, innovative data is currency.  It helps provide respect in the science community, funding for future research and a fulfilling career.  Innovative data is also necessary for researchers to make a living in order to support themselves and their families.  Everyone needs to make a living, right?   


So, for this too work, as a society we must provide assurances that individual researchers will be able to continue their passion, get recognition for their work and make a comfortable living.  Trust me, it’s worth it. Full disclosure collaboration will revolutionize the scientific method, improve scientific discoveries, allow scientific research to progress into the future, and also likely reduce the chance of scientific fraud, without alienating any innocent bystanders.


Everyone wins!