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Open Up

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and founder of the nonprofit Allen Institute for Brain Science, explains in The Wall Street Journal why his foundation believes in open access to data. Early on in the foundation's conception, Allen says he and others considered charging a fee for access to their data — something that made sense from a financial point of view. However, he adds, the foundation's mission was to help researchers make important breakthroughs in neuroscience, and "we didn't want to exclude underfunded neuroscientists who just might be the ones to make the next leap."

What's more, Allen says, the Institute's researchers don't wait to analyze their data and publish in journals. Instead, the data is generated with the purpose of sharing it, and it's put onto a public Web site as soon as it passes quality control checks. "Open science is a long-term and pricey proposition. It demands consistent curating, maintenance and updating of databases, and regular software and hardware upgrades," Allen says. But, he adds, "It is a modest cost that is paying off as the scientific community embraces the open access model."

Allen suggests that researchers' willingness to share data be tied to their funding. "What I've concluded is that foundations and other private funders who support scientific research also can help promote wider sharing of scientific data," he says. "Before funders write a check to a university, they should ask about the researcher's policies and track record on sharing."

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