If An Experiment Fails In A Forest, Does Anyone Hear?

Will Schroeder | Kitware Blog | February 10, 2013

There are many reasons why Open Science is a good thing. For some it's a moral argument that stresses sharing the results of (usually publicly funded) scientific research with society, preventing fraud through transparency, and benefiting teaching through the use of open materials. Others see the growing complexity and challenges of science as demanding collaboration; so that larger teams with their wider expertise can be brought to bear.

Clearly there are personal benefits too; as Steve Lawrence has shown there is a correlation between sharing the results of research and the number of paper citations. Many innovators and entrepreneurs are also fond of Open Science because sharing technology can accelerate the innovation process and empower small business by reducing intellectual rights barriers. And there are a lot of us that just like to have fun--the communities and relationships that form in an open environment make the hard work of science that much more enjoyable.

While I agree with all of these sentiments, they miss the crucial issue: reproducibility. It was for good reason that the Royal Society was formed in 1660 with the militant motto "Nullius in verba" or rendered in English "take nobody's word for it." Once the scientific method was formalized and practiced by these and other pioneers we began to benefit from the power of science. The early scientists (actually Natural Philosophers) realized that an understanding of physical reality was based on the practice of objectively performing "experiments" and repeatedly reproducing the same results. Only then could something be called truth, and incorporated into our foundational knowledge base...