The idea to blog about this common phenomenon came after I read a post over at Bioinformatics Zen on the matter of open science. There, Mike describes the situation quite clearly: mostly, you need a middle ground between complete secrecy and absolute openness.
That said, I still think science should be more open, at least in the field of life sciences. Publication should be a way to let others know, benefit and also build upon your work, not just a way to obtain funding or improve one’s career. The last two motives aren’t bad per se, but recently the philosophy of “publish or perish” is getting to an extreme.
This is particularly evident if you do high-profile research. When I still worked in the wet lab, a few years ago, everyone was in a frenzy to publish. They had good reason, but the competition was so fierce that sometimes there were contrasts even between people who were collaborating. It also affected the performance adversely, as rushed experiments did not always succeed.
In the field of bioinformatics, the situation is even worse, with a lot of software being published then abandoned, or algorithms published “for the sake of publishing” then abandoned. Publishing is seen as an end, not as a means of improving knowledge. In certain, extreme situations laboratories get so secretive they refuse to share even unsuccesful or unfruitful data.
All is lost? No, I think not. Thankfully, awareness about open science is raising. Nature Precedings is a good example of things to come.