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Economics and Serendipity

By now, you've probably read several blog post and articles that make arguments for why research data and software should be free and open to all — we figure one more won't hurt.

In a recent post, an Ensembl outreach officer makes a case for why Ensembl's data and code are open source and open access that is based on economics and chance.

Economically speaking, making everything open saves time, money, and infrastructure and just makes for more efficient research.

"Funders and scientists understand that lots of different labs need the data and the analysis that we produce," the post says. "However, it would be horribly inefficient if each lab who needs the resources we provide had to produce it themselves, repeating work that somebody else has already done, spending money that has already been spent, spending time that they could be spending doing other experiments or doing other analysis."

Also, unrestricted access to data leaves room for surprise discoveries, like the time Alexander Fleming found a fungus or when the Kellogg brothers discovered that stale wheat could be rather tasty.

"If we charged people to use Ensembl in some kind of per-use manner, then they’d only use Ensembl to look for things they knew they were looking for," the author writes. "By allowing people to browse Ensembl freely, without worrying about costs, they may stumble across the tool or data that will be exactly what they need."