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Franklin Award Opens Call For Nominations, Seeks Diversity



By Allison Proffitt

January 20, 2020 | The call for nominations is now open for the 2020 Benjamin Franklin Award, the award given annually recognizing open access in the life sciences. Nominations can be made by any member of Bioinformatics.org.

The Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences is a humanitarian/bioethics award presented annually by Bioinformatics.org to an individual who has, in his or her practice, promoted free and open access to the materials and methods used in the life sciences. The award was born out of a desire to recognize work contributing to open access and open science by Jeff Bizzaro, founder of Bioinformatics.org.

“I was involved in open source software back in the 1990’s and that’s what led to the founding of the organization,” Bizzaro explains. “The Franklin Award itself was based on that quote by Benjamin Franklin: [‘As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.’]. That’s been a model for the open source movement.”

Franklin—a scientist, publisher, founder of the first free library, among other accomplishments—understood that people communicate through generations, Bizzaro says, “and that communication is meant to be free. This idea of sharing knowledge was a very big part of what Franklin believed and practiced in his life… We build upon information from the past. We can’t do that if the information isn’t free, if we can’t access the information. We can’t build upon it. That’s a big part of the award.”

Up for the Vote

The Franklin Award winner is determined by the entire Bioinformatics.org community, a free membership organization that anyone can join. Any member can nominate someone other than themselves (and who hasn’t won in the past) who has demonstrably contributed to open access or open science in the field of life sciences. The nomination form asks for the nominee’s name, contact information, and a brief outline of his or her contribution to open science.

After the nomination period is closed, the Bioinformatics.org team creates a ballot for final voting that includes every nominee that received two or more nominations. In this way, all nominees that have been “seconded” by their peers move on to the final round of voting. Volunteers at Bioinformatics.org combine the nomination notes into a cohesive outline of each nominee’s contributions to open access. “Typically we end up with four or five people who have received at least two nominations,” Bizzaro explains.

The final ballot is promoted at Bioinformatics.org, here on Bio-ITWorld.com, and to Bioinformatics.org members via email. Members can vote via email or online ballot. The nominee with the most votes wins and is notified before any public announcement is made. The Laureate address and award presentation happen at the Bio-IT World Conference and Expo in Boston.

Seeking Diversity

While Bizzaro is proud of how democratic and open the voting process is, he acknowledges that the end result may not reflect modern demographics. “I think we’ve gone through a period with the award where people have been recognized for decades worth of work—some going back into the 1980’s and 90’s, when there was much less diversity in the life sciences, especially bioinformatics,” says Bizzaro.

But he says the organization does not wish to interfere with the intentions of the community. “A lot of times, [scientific awards] are done with a committee. A committee may decide who’s nominated, or they might have the final say at the end on who receives an award,” Bizzaro explains. “I think we are doing it in a somewhat unusual way by not injecting ourselves in the process.”

The organization is considering ways to increase diversity and is working on changes to the nomination process. They are, however, wary of over-publicizing the nomination tally, wanting to stay well clear of a “leaderboard” of nominations that could embarrass members of the community and cheapen the process.

“With better promotion and participation, I’m confident the diversity of laureates will soon reflect that of the current community,” he says.

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