John Wilbanks: Executive Director, Science Commons

Utne Reader visionary

| November-December 2009

These scientists are all about testifyin’. In fact, the geniuses behind Science Commons run themselves ragged preaching the gospel of openness, racking up hundreds of thousands of frequent flier miles each year to spread their nerdy but vital message: Scientific research and resources should be shared more widely to spur innovation and create greater opportunities for discovery.

The six-member group is adapting the goals and legal savvy of its parent organization, Creative Commons, which facilitates the sharing of original work. And Science Commons’ leader, John Wilbanks, who has a background in both philosophy and engineering, is an energetic and engaging messenger.

The crew spends much of its time crafting legal and technical approaches to some of science’s most Byzantine roadblocks, which include databases in different countries and from various disciplines that house valuable research in progress but don’t share the same language (human or computer); publishers who think “sharing” something online means posting an unwieldy PDF; and cumbersome, centralized ordering systems.

 “We have a network of knowledge,” Wilbanks says. “We need to liberate it enough that it can actually take off.”


Science Commons is a fairly complex endeavor; Wilbanks and his colleagues are working on multiple projects, which are fascinating but often (necessarily) wonky and technical. It’s worth starting with this tidy two-minute video in which Wilbanks & Co. explain their approach and break down why it’s needed now.

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