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Guest post: Strings of an open data ‘code’

This is a guest post, translated from Spanish on Forbes Mexico, by Nina V. Tscheke

At ScienceOpen, we would like to extend our thanks and gratitude to Forbes Mexico for mentioning us in a really great post of theirs about how open data and sharing can accelerate the research process. The timing for this is perfect in due to the recent launch of SciELO on our platform. A special thank you to Alfredo Taborga for writing the piece, the original version of which can be found here.

Here is the full reproduced article, with permission:

Open data can change the way we do research, shorten the time needed to find cures to illnesses, and encourage the coexistence in a world with fewer walls and more freedom.

If those who read my articles are more or less my age, they should remember the acclaimed novel The Da Vinci Code. I remember how I devoured it. I couldn’t stop reading. I also remember friends of mine who took it as an accurate account of reality within which the church tries hard to obscure the great miracles of the world. It is not their fault; they simply fell victim to the positivistic education that is imparted in this country.

If the plot was written now, Brown would have a different ending and a radical change of story in it:

A murder in the Louvre and some clues in Da Vinci’s pictures lead to the discovery of a mystery that had been protected by a secret society for more than 2000 years. It is suspected that this discovery could bring down the pillars of Christianity. Robert Langdon tries to get into the Vatican Library to gain access to ancient manuscripts that would support his theory… Sophie Neveu, who would probably be part of the millennial generation, laughs, takes out her smartphone and types Vatican Library into Google. (The first line on the page reads “Digitalize to Disclose”.) Two pages open from the top section of the page (the Vatican people did a good job with the search engine marketing).

Dear reader, this is open data… The concept isn’t new, but its formal definition is. Although I have friends who would criticize me for using Wikipedia as a source, I will take the liberty of just doing that. Because the access to open and unrestricted information is paramount, especially to this entry of my blog.

Wikipedia defines open data as “any piece of information that is free to be used, reused and distributed, subject to the sole requirement of crediting the author”.

Open data can refer to maps, information about the genome, about science or biodiversity. This brings it into conflict with restrictions of patent rights, copyrights, licenses, etc.—whereas its greatest defenders assert that these very restrictions conflict with the common good.

Let’s move away from this discussion possible to become byzantine; it is true that open data could not better be represented than with the words by Luciano Ammenti, CIO of the Vatican Library, as ushered in an interview he gave my friend Leandro Africano for the Revista Pulso in Argentina: “The documents inside the Vatican Library are not the Vatican’s, but the people’s.”

He refers to texts of Christianity just as well as, among others, to incunabula by Homer, Sophocles, Dante, and the first edition of the bible. Anyone can now consult the more than 80,000 manuscripts and 8,900 documents, going way beyond the capacity of 200 persons that the baroque hall has. Visit @vaticanlibrary for more information, because surely the Vatican is totally “social media savvy”.

I would also like to share another project that is a GREAT example for open data: it is called ScienceOpen.com and was fathered by a great friend of mine who thinks that we all can do something to make this world a better place.

ScienceOpen is a huge data repository providing open access to scientific publications. It offers almost 13 million articles by more than 9 million authors, extensively classified and searchable by relevance and context.

In a world with global threats like the previous pandemics this is something that cannot be underrated. Science Open transforms into a potential to share global solutions to these problems.

The very World Health Organization links Science Open as a platform to share research about the Zika virus. You ask yourself who shares their information? Well, it comes from everyone: institutions, scientists, Nobel Prize winners; what’s more, while I am writing these lines, they are incorporating gigantic collections such as SciELO’s — a great example of scientific open data in Latin America.

“Information is power” is a phrase quite overused; however, if access to information can change the plot of a novel so radically, I absolutely think that this accessibility can change the way we do research, shorten the time needed to find cures to illnesses, and thus encouraging a coexistence in a world with fewer borders, fewer walls, fewer prejudices, and more freedom.

Commander Jean-Paul Chretien: Open Access, The Military, and Public Health Emergencies

Recently, we’ve been running an ‘open science stars‘ series to highlight a range of great people from around the world working to advance open science practices. This week, we have something a little special for you. All previous interviews have been with students or researchers, but this story is from a physician in the United States Navy, Commander Jean-Paul Chretien! So sit back and enjoy the show.

Hi Commander Jean-Paul! For starters could you let us know a little about your background?

Thank you for interviewing me. Let me say first that throughout this interview I’m expressing my own views, not necessarily the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, Defense Health Agency, or US Government.

I’m a physician in the United States Navy, and my training is in public health, epidemiology, and informatics. I work on challenges at the intersection of health and national security, like infectious disease outbreaks and climate change.

I was drawn first to the military, before medicine, but I knew what life as a doctor is like because my parents are physicians. I wanted to be a military officer from a pretty young age. Service to country, the chance to lead, the adventure – all of that appealed to me. For college I went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, thinking maybe I would command a warship someday. But while I was there, studying international affairs and national security, I learned that some of the most pressing security challenges were health problems like HIV/AIDS, at the time. And I learned that in many battles and wars, diseases crippled military forces and civilian populations in war zones. Infections often caused more casualties than combat.

So I decided to go to medical school, but not to be a doctor practicing in a clinic. I wanted to be a doctor for populations, and bring medical knowledge to decisions that impact military service members, the broader American public, and, well, everyone.

When did you first hear about Open Access and Open Science? What were your first thoughts? Has there ever been a case where lack of access to information has seriously compromised your work?

When I was a student working on my MD and my PhD in epidemiology, I didn’t think about Open Access because access wasn’t a problem for me. Through my university, I could access just about any journal article I needed. But later, when I began my global health work in the U.S. military, I saw how access restrictions constrained biomedical research, patient care, and population health around the world.

Distribution of Ebola Virus Outbreaks 1979-2008 (Source) CC BY-SA 3.0
Distribution of Ebola Virus Outbreaks 1979-2008 (Source) CC BY-SA 3.0

At that time, I worked in a Department of Defense program that partners with dozens of countries to improve their capabilities for detecting and containing epidemics. I had collaborators around the world, public health personnel and researchers in countries with limited resources, who could not read about studies on the diseases that burden them. How can they join the global effort against infectious disease outbreaks if they can’t always access the most current and best research on those diseases?

When I began my global health work in the U.S. military, I saw how access restrictions constrained biomedical research, patient care, and population health around the world.

Then, what galvanized my commitment to open access and open science in general was the Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa in late 2013, and spread to Europe and the U.S. It’s waning now, but infections are still occurring. There have been more than 28,000 confirmed cases with around 11,000 deaths, by far the largest Ebola epidemic ever.

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