Being a hard working student I sometimes have to question (and from time to time applaude) the practices of academia and the tools that we use to foster innovation, creativity and knowledge-sharing. My masters thesis subject is concerned with the development methods of open source communities and companies that try to enable community-based development of their products. Yesterday I was considering this quote:
"In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out." - Eric S. Raymond - The Cathredral and The Bazaar
Looking aside from the fact that it deals with programming and not writing a paper (and trying to grow global awareness and knowledge on a specific topic) I thought to myself, that the cathedral-builder process is pretty similar to the process of writing a masters thesis. There are pretty strict guidelines to follow, a lot of scrutiny involved and planning by a dedicated few - in my case myself and my supervisor.
So is there a room for another way, a more open process with distributed peers, continous redesign, short release-spans etc. Obviously there are things like wikipedia that provide this for topics of interest to the general public, but needless to say science projects often go beyond that level of information and have to deal with experiments, not just facts of life such as those in an encyclopedia.
Also there's the issue of academia culture. Ego and elitism doubtlessly play a big part in maintaining a high degree of secrecy and closeness of scientific endeavor. I'd love to see scientists work in a community-enabling fashion and then I'd love to contribute to one of those (or create my own for my masters these). Let's for example try something like this out and we'll be well under way:
- "Bugtrackers" for all the items that needs investigations
- "Source control management" and versioning systems for revisions of the paper(s)
- Chatty mailing lists for peer review and discussions
- "Continous integration" for managing/matching references and terms within the paper
- Free availability to all underlying data, not just the published parts
The beauties of this would be similar to the beauties of open source. And particularly in academia there's a strong need to be able to track down who's done what and source control management and reference-management would greatly improve on that account. For evaluators it would be possible to see the actual changes made by each student in group work, for group-working students it would be possible to track the actual changes to the project (as opposed to having to read it all over again everytime you exchange documents)... Perhaps a more "open" science would be just what we need?