Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Next (10) Big Things

One of the things I don’t do on this blog is blog about work.

A few days ago though, I had an experience that took my breath away. I stood in an warm, overcrowded conference room, leaning around the people standing in front of me to see the slides and hear the speaker. What I heard were people laying the groundwork for the next five, ten, or one hundred revolutions in the biological sciences. Yesterday I wasn’t just glad to have a job, I was proud to be associated with my company, Teranode.

The speaker was John Wilbanks, Executive Director of the Science Commons. He had come to our company, Teranode Corporation, to brief us on what was happening in the NeuroCommons project. I almost hesitate to try to recap what he said, because I know that I cannot recapture the jaw-dropping, "Eureka!" sensation I felt.

Creative Commons began as an attempt to create “open source” copyright law. The Creative Commons website allows users to point and click to create a usage license that they can then associate with their creative work. Creators can decide how many and what kind of rights to grant users of their creations.

But what begins as a simple, easily-used tool can create unintended results. The obvious parallel to draw is with TCP/IP and HTTP, the simple, unpatented tools that created the current global network. With the Creative Commons licenses, creative people can allow other creative people to draw from their work, incorporating existing work into new works. If that usage is tracked (as at sites such as ccMixter), it becomes easy to see whose creative work is the most used, the most influential, and the most "important" to subsequent works.

What is interesting and cool in the music community becomes earth-shaking in the science community. Kids, If you thought that the RIAA was jealous of easy access to the product of artists, you haven't seen what science and medical journals do to protect the data contained in their published articles. ScienceCommons is a project to allow scientists and univestities to allow freeer access to their work, so that their work can inform and influence other scientists and labs working in related areas. NeruoCommons is the proving ground for the technologies of the ScienceCommons

Right now academics live by the rule, "publish or perish." Scientists are measured by how many peer-reviewed articles they can get published and how often those articles are cited by other published papers. But cites are a second-order measure of importance. Measuring the actual use the of information from a discovery to enable a further discovery would be a direct measure of the first discovery's importance. The ScienceCommons project makes this measurement possible.

One of the mantra repeated by Mr. Wilbanks was, "We aren't making new discoveries; we are laying "cable" for a new network."

If the NeuroCommons network has a fraction of the impact that the Internet has had for the economic community, watch out.

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