Mozilla Fellows for Science: The Value of Open Source

The Mozilla Science Lab is helping researchers leverage the open web by facilitating learning around open source and data sharing. The tools and practices around open source have the potential to transform the scholarly workflow and make research more collaborative and efficient.

This post will look at some parallels between the histories of the academic journal and the open source movement to show why we focus on open source leadership development among the Mozilla Fellows for Science.

Scientific revolution: the origin of the journal

The establishment of the scientific journal in the 17th century enabled many scientific breakthroughs. Today, almost all advances in science appear in a journal article.

Coming out of the scientific revolution, the first academic journal devoted to science, ‘Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society’1, was established by the Royal Society of London in 1665. The Society’s first secretary, Henry Oldenburg, wrote a series of letters giving us insight into four core values driving the creation of the journal.

Four core values:

1 & 2. Credit and Documentation

“We must be very careful as well of regist’ring the person and time of any new matter, as the matter itselfe, whereby the honor of the invention will be reliably preserved to all posterity24 November 1664

3. Sharing

“…all ingenious men will thereby be incouraged to impact their knowledge and discoverys3 December 1664

4. Participation

“…the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ be composed by Mr Oldenburg … being first revised by some of the members.” – Royal Society of London, Council Minutes, 1 March 1665

Digital revolution: the origin of open source

Centuries later, the same four values applied to a digital medium led to the open source movement in software.

1 & 2. Credit and Documentation

1972: SCCS

2005: Git, Mercurial

In a digital setting, giving credit and documenting changes are handled through version control software. Version control documents all changes in code along with the author for each change. This gives us more granular attribution and documentation than previously possible.

3. Sharing

1983: The Free Software Movement, Richard Stallman, GNU Manifesto

1989: Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web

With the rise of the Free Software Movement and the invention of the World Wide Web, we have a new publishing platform where software and data is available immediately and globally.

4. Participation

Granular credit and documented changes in software on a platform with immediate communication and data sharing allowed the digital age to open a new level of participation.

In 1997, Eric S. Raymond published ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’, an essay on the state of free software. He compared two different free sofware development models. The Cathedral model, with available source code but closed development, is contrasted with the Bazaar model seen in the Linux kernel project run by Linus Torvalds.

“Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge…”

This essay articulated the idea of working open and motivated the Netscape Corporation to release the Netscape browser suite as free software. This became the basis of the Mozilla Project and sparked the label open source.

By pursuing credit, documentation, sharing and participation the open web enabled a radical form of participation seen in the open source movement. These same values during the scientific revolution gave us the academic journal. At the science lab, we want to build open source leaders within the scientific community to help research thrive on the web.

Why participate in open source?

Participating in an open source community allows for hands-on experiential learning. Contributors have an opportunity to:

  1. learn hard computing or research skills,
  2. strengthen soft skills through teamwork or mentoring and
  3. contribute to something that matters.

By experiencing and practicing the radical participation possible on the web, we can begin to unlock what this looks like in the scholarly workflow. Join us as the Science Lab begins to focus on open source leadership development to help researchers learn and build on the web.

Next steps

1 “Philosophical” in the title refers to “natural philosophy” which is equivalent to “science” today