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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Social Enterprise and Science

Things We Don't Know is now an official member of Social Enterprise UK. So I'd like to take a moment to explain what this means, and why I feel this is important for TWDK as a company.

TWDK is a social enterprise

What is a Social Enterprise?

To quote SEUK themselves:
Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. And so when they profit, society profits.
For the most part, companies exist to make money for the people who own that company, while charities exist to raise money for a particular cause and avoid making a profit. Things We Don't Know is a registered Community Interest Company, which means that we exist to make money for a particular cause - specifically, to fund and communicate scientific research. So membership of SEUK, the national body for social enterprises, is an important recognition of our social purpose.

What are the problems TWDK intends to tackle?

Existing readers may already be familiar with the TWDK Open Science Promise - that we will only link to science papers that are freely available to the public. Supporting the open science movement is part of our broad mission to help people discover and understand where the limits of our collective knowledge lie. But it is by no means the only impact we hope to make.

We believe that improving public engagement with, and the understanding of, ongoing scientific research will help to increase the number of people who choose to study science at university, and that it will boost public support for science funding on a national and international level. By introducing people to the questions being asked before they have been solved, we will also increase the levels of interest in science journalism, and can support journalists in their quest for accurate and interesting reporting. We will also assist publishers in determining which topics have the most public interest.

Today, there is no single resource available for anybody - including scientists - which details all the open questions identified by science. TWDK intends to create this resource, enabling people to determine the questions they find the most interesting and follow the progress being made on them as it happens. This means that scientists will gain a valuable tool throughout their careers, but particularly at the start. A PhD or Doctorate is a significant undertaking that requires tremendous amounts of sustained effort over many years. So choosing the right topic is a vital part of the process, and yet students in the UK and across the world are currently making this decision from an extremely limited list of options - simply because of a lack of accessible information. TWDK wants to reduce the number of students who fail to complete their postgraduate studies, by ensuring they can make an informed decision when choosing their speciality and institution.

Ultimately, we want to fund scientific research, and to have our readers determine which questions they want to see answered, rather than choosing whichever issue promises the greatest economic return. By ensuring that all the results of research we fund are freely available, we can address some of the harm done to the reputation of certain branches of science by those who benefited from "burying" results that did not reflect the wishes of those who paid for it.