Microsoft co-founder Allen urges open science to speed breakthroughs

There are now huge scientific datasets available online for free, but Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen says that the NIH and other groups could be doing more to lift barriers to accessing biological information, in an op-ed he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Allen, of course, has poured part of his fortune into the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which has provided 3D maps of the mouse brain and human brain that highlight the locations of specific genes and their function--all made free to the public, in an effort to speed the rate of neuroscience breakthroughs. As Allen notes in his piece, there's a long tradition of open access to biological data that predates the founding of his Seattle research institute in 2003, and others such as the nonprofits The Pistoia Alliance and Sage Bionetworks have followed to lower barriers to such data.

However, there's a hefty cost to maintaining huge datasets. Allen called for the NIH and the National Science Foundation to boost funding for the curation of valuable biological data, even if it means diverting some dollars from research grants. "But I think we'd get more bang for our buck by making more data more useful to more scientists--and, by extension, to the world community that will benefit from their work," he writes.

Allen's call for action comes after the U.S. government revealed earlier this year that funding could get cut for a massive genomics database, a blow to researchers who rely on the resource. There are some tough decisions to make about how to allocate funds from the limited budget for government-backed research, and the dicey situation is bound to bring out plenty of similar endorsements for particular funding priorities.

- here's the op-ed (sub. req.)

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