Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blueprint's Funding Requirements

Today, November 16 2005, it was announced that BIND curation activities have ceased, due to lack of public funding for the ongoing effort for the Blueprint Initiative in both Canada and Singapore. While it is difficult to provide public databases of the caliber of BIND without continued funding, I remain committed to public good research, open source software development and free data deposition, as do many others.

The problem now is, can it be resurrected? I will consider options made available, but no options are available on the public funding front at the moment. By the time funding becomes available, the software development team responsible for managing 3.5 million lines of source code will be all off to other jobs, and it may be impossible to return the operation to service if that happens. Several decades of person-years of experience that was accumulated in running this project will have toppled like a house of cards.

It seems like policy exists for providing open access to research data, and that policy should cover operations like Blueprint and BIND. On 30 January 2004 the Government of Canada, by Ministerial consent, adopted the OECD Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding as policy. It is my hope that a long-term funding vehicle for sustainable database operations will result from the eventual deployment of this policy, and that Blueprint may apply for further funding through such a new funding vehicle.

I am not eager to re-apply for unsustainable funding, or further short-term financing for this resource. Its value, audience, and success have already been demonstrated and peer-reviewed. We are well-past proof of concept, having been peer-review funded to scale up from the original draft database architecture in 1999. None of our copycat competitors have come close to achieving what we have, in either the public or commercial sector, in providing first-rate data and database services of use to life-scientists.

To rebuild and then sustain Blueprint's database maintenance and curation operations, Blueprint will require a mix of co-funding and non-co-funding.

Co-funding schemes for funding scientific research have been criticized by a large number of Canadian scientists. I have not been among those making this criticism, for without co-funding schemes such as those of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and later Genome Canada, it would have been impossible to bring you the accumulated infrastructure and knowledge behind Blueprint's databases and web services. Yet those same schemes have imperiled our service by not contemplating a measure of sustainability.

Co-funding schemes will remain important for federal and provincial investments in science, but the right balance is required for the benefit of all Canadian scientists. In addition, co-funding schemes must be able to break through the economic barriers between nations and be counted for international scientific projects, just as films and television productions are already co-funded jointly by partner nations.

It is up to funding agencies and governments to find the formula to fund this project. Fiscal surpluses in Canada are evident and we are not victim to austerity measures. I have done all that I can to fulfill my side of the commitment to providing open access to BIND.

I have already started up a spin-off company - Unleashed Informatics that has been making a highly affordable, auto-updated, commercial version of the SeqHound server. I am considering moving BIND into a commercial vehicle to preserve it, just as SwissProt did in 1996, but with the hope that a public-funded operation for Blueprint may return.

Keep watching this space.

Thanks for your ongoing support,
Christopher Hogue -