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John Wilbanks, Science Commons ED, on The NeuroCommons


One of the most exciting Science Commons projects that was born in 2005 and will continue to grow in 2006 is the NeuroCommons. The NeuroCommons is a proving ground for the ideas behind Science Commons: open legal contracts, open access literature, advanced use of open-standards semantic web technology and the construction of a community involving all the stakeholders in scientific funding, research and publishing.

The NeuroCommons project will:

1. Use freely available literature and databases to make scientific knowledge, descriptions of biological materials and data sets easier to use and find. A graph will connect neurological information and publish it in semantic web standard formats.

2. Provide an infrastructure for community-driven additions and annotations.

3. Lower the legal and technical barriers to finding and sharing knowledge and tools in the neurosciences.

The backbone of the NeuroCommons is the scientific canon or set of facts published in neurological research. Presently, the vast majority of these facts are trapped in document formats that are readable only by individuals – PDF, Word, HTML – and in many cases, usage is constrained by copyright. Users wishing to develop new methods to manage the literature can face a multitude of license schemes from publishers, digital rights management preventing text mining and other library management protocols. Although the methods for generating data are transformed by miniaturization and automation, the methods for interpreting those data remain stolidly traditional: individuals reading the peer-reviewed literature. The barriers to changing the system are both legal and technical.

A new kind of scientific publishing known as “open access” uses standard copyright licenses from Science Commons’ parent organization to explicitly allow users to share, repost and run software across scientific articles. This has created a growing body of literature that is legally re-usable without the involvement of lawyers or clearance with institutions such as universities. The NeuroCommons will be built upon this body of literature as well as the many public databases created in the US, the UK, the EU, Japan and other countries.

The success of the NeuroCommons will depend on the creation and evolution of a true open community like that in the free and open source software world. NeuroCommons is supported in conjunction with Teranode, a private software company with a semantic web focus as well as funders investing in researching complex neurological disorders, principal investigators in neuroscience, bio-materials repositories and others.

Posted 27 December 2005