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☘☘☘ Letters by Vivek Rai
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A Letter in the Name of Science

Taking a stand

Posted below is an email that I rediscovered in my mailbox a few days ago. I had no memory of it whatsoever, perhaps because I never received a reply from the intended recipient. Whatever be the reasons, looking back at it today feels like discovering a diamond in the rough.

The letter was an outcome of my personal struggle. The conundrums of an aspiring researcher - Where do my moral and ethical standards of science? Where do they belong in the existing framework of academia? What's there for me?

I have come a long way in understanding these questions; in being able to answer them for myself. Any sophisticated reader would find the letter to be quite silly today, if not outright useless. However, I think ideas emerging from this letter and many such conversations with other people have invariably contributed to where I stand as a scholar today; and yet the journey is not over.

The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Albert Einstein

reproduced with redacted name, 13/11/15

I'm sorry for coming up to you with frequent questions. However, it is
something that is bugging me for some time, and I am hopeful that your
ideas will be of great help in improving my understanding. I will refrain
from providing a context at the moment as it may act as a primer.

I have grown through years in close unison with areas of computer
science, where there is a tradition of publishing ideas in conferences
and doing things in open aka open-source way. This ideology has
influenced me a lot, and I have striven to appropriately license my work
in a manner that allows maximum reuse and persistence even if the work
has just started. However, I realize that this tradition is far from true
in domains like biology. There is an invisible force pushing for secrecy,
patents, rights protection, publish-or-perish. People want to preserve
ideas first at any cost, irrespective of whether they'll ever work on
that idea or not. I guess most of these arise to internal competition on
funding and other resources. But anyway.

I wish to know your ideas on ethics and ways of doing science, especially
in the context of topics above. Do you think it open research, open
science is an unaccepted methodology in the current state of scientific
development? What advantages does working behind the screens bring
compared to the mutually sharing knowledge and working for advancement in
general? Or is it that everything boils down to an act of garnering fame
and funding in academia since these two are highly likely to affect the
success rate (and research rate) for anyone? What do you think of
pre-publication?

Sorry if I jumbled up a lot of questions in the last paragraph. Please
take your time to respond.

Sincerely,
Vivek