From when I was young, I spent a lot of time programming computers. In high school, my science fair project was a hand coded n-body gravitational simulator, and many of my close friends went into the computer industry. Ultimately after some interventions by my friend (and now board member) Stephen Ridley, and through benefitting from code that other programmers had shared with me, I began to understand the value of the open-source philosophy. I also began to comprehend how proprietary products can be problematic: an understanding that is deepening as I get older and more experienced.
Yet when I began my graduate career in chemistry and biology, what I found was an industry that still clung to closed, proprietary economic models, and had very little hope of grasping the philosophy behind the open-source revolution that transformed the way we use software. While our counterparts in high-technology are closing legal doors behind patent trolls and exploring the space of open culture from evolving an ecosystem open licences to testing out the concept of open corporations, biologists and chemists still play games with patent language, and silo themselves in secret compartments to keep out knowledge leaks. To be sure, there are some initiatives trying to break down these barriers, such as the biobricks foundation and openwetware, but – resistance is still the dominant reaction.
As younger scientists and more computer-savvy scientists emerge into the higher levels of academia and industry, the seeds for change will be planted, but that will not be enough; the status quo can always argue that ‘this is the way things are done; no other way will work’, regardless of if it’s actually been tried. Much like how Linux (and later, the LAMP stack) was a decisive factor in producing the sea change of opinion, what biologists and chemists need is a ‘proof of principle’ that demonstrates that modern drug development can be done differently. Thanks to my skill at ‘having been at the right place at the right time’, I believe that I have an outside chance of making this demonstration. To accomplish this, I’ve founded a non-profit organization dedicated to open science, indysci dot org, and using this platform I intend to push forward several examples of biological and chemical innovations that ‘leverage the insights gained by the open-source movement’.
We’re getting ready to launch our first initiative – Project Marilyn. This is a crowdfunded effort to develop a IP-free pharmaceutical. Why crowdfunded? Because we’d like to prove that there is a broad social desire to see this happen. Following the concept of Linus’ law, we’d like for many eyes to check our work and make sure what we are doing is okay before we ask for your money. So I present to you the Project Marilyn RFC. The RFC will get more detailed than the broad-picture story I just told you; and the detail-oriented can drill down deeper to examine our plans more carefully. Especially important is if you can forward it to people who you think will find this to be interesting – supporters and skeptics alike.