Free discussion of public results ? April 3, 2007Posted by dorigo in internet, physics, politics, science.
In recent years large scientific collaborations like those operating particle physics experiments have started to be faced with a unexpected problem by the arrival of blogs on the scene of distribution of scientific information.
Usually these collaborations would love to be the sole authoritative commenters of the results they produce. Some have managed to do so in the past by using confidentiality, strong peer review, careful selection of publishers, micromanagement of speakers at international conferences, and in some unfortunate instances political pressure.
There is nothing really wrong with that attitude, but we should not forget that the precious data these scientists collect and scrutinize are the result of hefty funds granted by institutions that are mostly paid with taxpayers’ money. Taken singularly, each and every one of the scientists belonging to any of the large particle experiments I see around could well be substituted by another worthy scientist with no negative effect on the science. They do not own the data. The data is an asset of humanity.
I belong to two large collaborations, the CDF experiment at Fermilab and the CMS experiment at CERN, and I consider my affiliations a privilege, not a right – and the same goes with the data I can play with just because I am a “member”. I would never consider CDF data as “mine”, just because I strung wires on a muon chamber which is now recording tiny electronic signals as the experiment is taking data. No more will I do with the data of CMS – I did even less for the construction and the understanding of that experiment (but I am catching up quickly).
So, now that blogs are around, these collaborations face a challenge to the way of dealing with the discussion of their results. They have been caught, if you will, with their pants down. What is the solution ? Can some form of censoring the free discussion of physics in the web be an option ?
No, of course not. The best thing they could do – and I really hope CMS and the other future experiments will, but I do not see that happening in the lifetime of CDF – is to play it smart: if you can’t defeat your opponent, join him!
Experiments of the future should have much, much more to offer in the internet than those static, unwelcoming, arid “public web pages” where results are laid bare, with no explanation for the newcomer or for the expert alike. They should create and maintain an experiment-approved blog, with frequent entries explaining what is going on, what is coming out, what is cool, and what one should interpret the results.
I guess this is just another of those good ideas that will never see the light…