Unlocking Chemistry: It's Time To Make The Subject As Open As Bioscience

Peter Murray-Rust | The Guardian | January 6, 2014

Now that millions of patented compounds are open information, chemistry has a chance to catch up, says Peter Murray-Rust

The conventional business model for chemical information has been to collect it, enhance it, then charge for access. This started with the visionary Friedrich Konrad Beilstein who founded the famous Handbuch der organischen Chemie (Handbook of Organic Chemistry). The first edition, published in 1881, covered 1,500 compounds in 2,200 pages.  

Now there are tens of millions of compounds electronically abstracted from research literature in great detail, but most are behind paywalls. The closed access model increasingly frustrates the community. In the internet era, citizens – not just practising scientists – want to develop new ways of using information: mashups, linked data, apps, new displays and more.  

The open philosophy – free to use, reuse and redistribute – was fuelled by the Human Genome Project, free for everyone and now commonplace in bioscience. It's typified by the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, whose projects are pan-European in the true sense of the word. Whenever anyone asks me of the value of the UK being part of Europe, I immediately point to the truly multinational integrated approach of the EBI.