How Open Source Approach is Impacting Science

In this new Science category within It’s FOSS, we dive into the exciting world of Innovative Science to explore and find out about how the Linux-based Operating System and Open Source are playing a significant role in the major scientific breakthroughs that are taking place in our daily lives.

The Impact of An Open Source Approach Towards Science

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In future write-ups, we will strive towards exploring the thoughts mentioned in the title of this article. For now, let us look into the following key points:


Transparency is a practice that is considered highly valuable in any project that is being undertaken. It is all about how open the process of intended shared information being distributed is. Transparency makes any kind of action being implemented easily perceivable as it plays a significant role in building an effective decision-making process within an organization or community. A simple example of good transparency practice would be a complete set of records of transactions between two individuals or teams available for reference at any time by both parties.

Though transparency and open source are not exactly the same, both share similar ideologies. The Open Source Approach always brings about a positive impact on transparency within any project team. Since the original source code is available on the public domain and can be repurposed, it becomes easier for various collaborations to be born among different groups or teams to work towards solving a scientific problem that could help society. Speaking of Linux, it is always the first preference in scientific research considering the nature of software practices today. Based on various observations by researchers, Linux is being preferred first and that is good news!

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Quality of Research

Research without quality always results in reduced or no effectiveness. It’s obvious how Linux and FOSS would profoundly affect the quality of scientific research anywhere in the world. The effect on transparency as discussed above likewise has another positive effect on research too, because when software being used to perform any scientific analysis is open source, it becomes simpler and easier to understand experimental results and errors. It immensely helps in isolating the cause of a software issue. The ability to reuse scientific work for its initial or a different purpose i.e. applicability will only be possible when the original source code is available at hand, making it absolutely ready to deploy or debug after making updates with the necessary changes.

Flow of Ideas

As this key point suggests, scientific knowledge should not be contained. This is how the concept of open access came into being. Open Source supports the spirit of scientific knowledge freedom with its open model. Proprietary software means closed source, which implies lack of transparency in understanding how it really works. When we do not understand how it actually works from the core, are we not hindered from effectively solving our targeted problem with required precision? The time spent in replicating or improving such a model could have greatly been reduced had it been open source in the first place!

A recent study was published by ScienceDirect which revealed that it is the Open Source sector which dominates the industry when compared to its Proprietary counterpart when considering the long run. This has been done by studying and formulating their mutual relations corresponding to R&D.

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Scope of Improvement

Careful study of open source code allows the scientific programmer to note down possibilities of improvements, erroneous bugs which could be vital for scientific accuracy and implementing new features. Introducing new features becomes quite easier as the user knows where to intelligently implement them within the various snippets of open source code every part of which is obviously accessible.

Savings on Funding

Any scientific research requires sufficient funding to work effectively towards an outlaid objective. To be able to invent or discover, we require tools. But when it comes to software tools, it is evident how adopting an open source model would cut down costs. We do not need to buy a costly operating system while building a science lab. Computers are heavily relied upon to perform in-silico analysis and thankfully we have an enormous amount of freely available open source scientific operating systems and software to work on the same. The expenditure that goes into buying proprietary software could be justifiably used to do actual research just by using open source software instead.

Open Source Journals

Scientific journals are a source of reliable information and research news. Interestingly, we now even have software journals exclusively meant for looking up Open Source information. One of them is JOSS, i.e The Journal of Open Source Software which is a great resource to browse upon open source research software packages. The journal has specifically been designed with a developer-friendly approach. We will discuss more such journals in future articles.

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Open Science

Open Science is a movement that is gradually becoming a revolution, to make all scientific work available to everyone, irrespective of the status of the individual or group who have an eagerness to know or learn. This has been described in the featured image (by Sci-GaIA) of this article in a very simple manner. Sci-GaIA promotes the use and development of e-Infrastructure in Africa. The idea of Open Science dates as long as back to the 1600s! Open Science is based on four core values: open access, open data, open source, and open standards. Many countries have full-fledged open data projects. Here’s France, India and the U.S.’s. Check out this beautifully illustrated and interactive open science page on the Sci-GaIA website!

Following are the laws of Open Science:

  • First law: All data are open and all ideas are shared
  • Second Law: Anyone can take part at any level
  • Third Law: There will be no patents
  • Fourth Law: Suggestions are the best form of criticism
  • Fifth Law: Public discussion is much more valuable than private email
  • Sixth Law: An open project is bigger than, and is not owned by any given lab

The above laws were first laid down by visionary scientist and researcher, Matt Todd in his own blog post on Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD – discussed next) for Malaria. The following video mentions the first three:

His team began open source research on malaria to battle the infamous disease that puts billions of people around the world at risk to this day. It’s called The Open Source Malaria project, a resource of relevant information primarily targeted towards fighting Malaria. Here’s a comprehensive open access Nature journal publication discussing how and why Open Source is a Research Accelerator!

Open Source Drug Discovery(OSDD)

OSDD is an initiative to discover new medicines to fight diseases with an Open Source approach. Bharath Ramsundar, who initiated the development of a python library based on deep learning for drug discovery, materials science, quantum chemistry and biology called DeepChem, wrote a remarkable article about Why Should Drug Discovery Be Open Source. With DeepChem as an example, he has clearly explained the concept, highlighting how great the impact is when Scientific Software is Open Source.

In the coming up articles on Science, we will find out how the emerging trends in various fields are evolving by rethinking them with an open source perspective.

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