Open science and research has made tremendous strides in recent years, with the EU basing their entire scientific policy around being as open as possible.
The opening up of scientific work raises the distinct possibility that two or more teams may be working on the same area at the same time. Finding these kindred spirits can be akin to finding a needle in a haystack however.
Enter the robot
Just as advanced computers such as IBM’s Watson aim to help connect up disparate dots in datasets such as academic research, a team of researchers propose a similar system, called The SCience INtroDuction Robot (SCINDR) to help connect up researchers working on similar topics.
The device, which was documented in a recent paper, aims to alert scientists to peers that are working on similar molecules at the same time. It’s based around an open source electronic lab notebook that the team developed previously, with the ultimate aim being to promote greater collaboration amongst scientists.
The notebook is already in operation and aims to provide researchers with a place to store the data they generate from their experiments in a machine readable and accessible format. If scientists are using the notebook, it’s an easy process to integrate it into SCINDR.
“The above mentioned ELN is the perfect platform for the addition of SCINDR since it is already acting as a repository of open drug discovery information that can be mined by the robot,” the researchers say.
SCINDR is capable of mining the data contained in the ELN and can detect when researchers are working on similar molecules, biological assays, chemical reactions or any of a number of other facets of health research. Once the system identifies a potential match, it sends a message to each suggesting potential collaboration.
The team believe that SCINDR is similar in many ways to the various streaming services available that aim to match users up with music that might interest them.
“The potential for automatically connecting relevant people and/or matching people with commercial content currently dominates much of software development, yet the analogous idea of automatically connecting people who are working on similar science in real time does not exist,” they say.
“This extraordinary fact arises in part because so few people work openly, meaning almost all the research taking place in laboratories around the world remains behind closed doors until publication (or in a minority of cases deposition to a preprint server), by which time the project may have ended and researchers have moved on or shelved a project.”
They hope that as open science begins to take hold within the scientific community, systems such as SCINDR will become crucial in ensuring the community works effectively. It is due to be put through its paces in the Open Source Malaria community, who aim to advance treatments of the disease, with the hope that it will then roll out more widely after that.
I’ve written a number of times about the benefits of open science, and tools like this will be a key part of ensuring it achieves its goals. Well worth keeping an eye on.