found this article in, comment/opinion page,
(if not long over due) quite interesting and insightful.

Secrecy in science is a corrosive force
By Michael Schrage

Published: November 27 2009

"Open science minimises the likelihood and consequences of bad science."

With no disrespect to sausages and laws, Bismarck’s most famous aphorism clearly requires updating. “Scientific research” is bidding furiously to make the global shortlist of things one should not see being made.

Understandably so. Sciences at the cutting edge of statistics and public policy can make blood sports seem genteel. Scientists aggressively promoting pet hypotheses often relish the opportunity to marginalise and neutralise rival theories and exponents.

The malice, mischief and Machiavellian manoeuvrings revealed in the illegally hacked megabytes of emails from the University of East Anglia’s prestigious Climate Research Unit, for example, offers a useful paradigm of contemporary scientific conflict. Science may be objective; scientists emphatically are not. This episode illustrates what too many universities, professional societies, and research funders have irresponsibly allowed their scientists to become. Shame on them all.

The source of that shame is a toxic mix of institutional laziness and complacency. Too many scientists in academia, industry and government are allowed to get away with concealing or withholding vital information about their data, research methodologies and results. That is unacceptable and must change.

Only recently in America, for example, have academic pharmaceutical researchers been required to disclose certain financial conflicts of interest they might have. On issues of the greatest importance for public policy, science researchers less transparent than they should be. That behaviour undermines science, policy and public trust.

Dubbed “climate-gate” by global warming sceptics, the most outrageous East Anglia email excerpts appear to suggest respected scientists misleadingly manipulated data and suppressed legitimate argument in peer-reviewed journals.

These claims are forcefully denied, but the correspondents do little to enhance confidence in either the integrity or the professionalism of the university’s climatologists. What is more, there are no denials around the researchers’ repeated efforts to avoid meaningful compliance with several requests under the UK Freedom of Information Act to gain access to their working methods. Indeed, researchers were asked to delete and destroy emails. Secrecy, not privacy, is at the rotten heart of this bad behavior by ostensibly good scientists.

Why should research funding institutions and taxpayers fund scientists who deliberately delay, obfuscate and deny open access to their research? Why should scientific journals publish peer-reviewed research where the submitting scientists have not made every reasonable effort to make their work – from raw data to sophisticated computer simulations – as transparent and accessible as possible? Why should responsible policymakers in America, Europe, Asia and Latin America make decisions affecting people’s health, wealth and future based on opaque and inaccessible science?

They should not. The issue here is not about good or bad science, it is about insisting that scientists and their work be open and transparent enough so that research can be effectively reviewed by broader communities of interest. Open science minimises the likelihood and consequences of bad science.

Debilitating and even fatal side-effects of new drugs might have been detected sooner if pharmaceutical companies had been compelled to share data on all the trials they ran, not just favourable ones. Similarly, the flawed and successfully overturned 1999 child murder conviction of Sally Clark might never have occurred if the statistical errors made by expert witness pediatrician Sir Roy Meadow had been questioned earlier. Data withholding played a distortive and destructive role in the cold fusion frenzy 20 years ago, when two scientists announced they had produced energy by cold fusion, only to be widely and quickly denounced by the scienitific community. Concealment and secrecy invites mischief; too many scientists seeking influence accept the invitation.

Achieving this is simple and inexpensive. It is not done by more rigorous enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act, although that would help. It comes from branding “openness” into every link of the scientific research value chain. Public or tax-deductible research funding should be contingent upon maximum transparency.

Scientists and affiliated institutions that will not make the research process as transparent as the end result will be asked to return the money or risk denial of future funds. University accreditation should be contingent not just upon faculty research and publication but by demonstrating policies and practices that champion data sharing. Professional societies and journals should make data sharing a condition of membership and publication. Researchers must be pushed to be more open at every step of their process.

The Royal Society not only makes data sharing a precondition of publication, it provides up to 10 megabytes of free space for supplementary data on its website. Unfortunately, too many scientific societies and publishers are less than rigorous or insistent about openness. Strip them of their tax-deductible status. Make opennes a condition of tax advantage. Of course commercial and proprietary issues can influence the manner of data sharing and transparency. But the East Anglia emails represent an individual and institutional imperative to err on the side of minimal disclosure even as researchers sought to maximise the academic and political impact of their work. That is perverse.

Public interest suggests scientists and their sponsoring institutions be made as legally, financially, professionally and ethically as uncomfortable as possible about concealing and withholding relevant research information.

If the University of East Anglia had been sharing more of its data and the computer models and statistical simulations running that data, the email hack would have been much ado about nothing.

When doing important research about the potential future of the planet, scientists should have nothing to hide. Their obligation to the truth is an obligation to openness.

The writer researches the economics of innovation and technology transfer at MIT and is a visiting researcher at London’s Imperial College

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