Friday, December 02, 2005

Changes in the way science is done (Part 2)

We just saw how science changed from an individual enterprise to a group -- make that a large group -- enterprise.

Now, through Pharyngula, we have a link to the blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. He also wrote an interesting article in Nature in which he covers many different ways in which scientists interact with each other and with the public. In particular, blogs (and wikis too).

In other words, blogs have officially entered the consciousness of Big People in Nature. It also means assured salvation for all academic bloggers!

But, it is more than just blogs and such. Butler's article is a part of a larger series in which Nature explores 'new developments in science communication on the web'. What may he these other kind of communications'?

Here is an example, provided by the editorial in the latest issue of the magazine, which carries all the articles [look up Butler's post for links] in this series :

[the new web technologies] will in turn expose many fields of research to changes that are already sweeping disciplines such as bioinformatics and high-energy physics. A decade ago, for example, astronomy was still largely about groups keeping observational data proprietary and publishing individual results. Now it is organized around large data sets, with data being shared, coded and made accessible to the whole community. Organized sharing of data within and among smaller and more diverse research communities is more challenging, owing to the plethora of data types and formats.

In other words, a small part of the group does the experiment to get mountains of data, which are then made available to all the members of the group residing all over the world. Different people then 'tease out' different kinds of information from the same data-set to study further whatever they want to study. Optimization at its best!

This trend hasn't hit people like us -- the so called small scientists, who pursue our work in small groups, using facilities which don't cost too much. But, it has certainly hit the Big Scientists, such as those who work in experimental particle (collider?) physics and experimental astronomy. They require highly expensive equipment costing over hundred million dollars to pursue their dreams.

I am sure the Big Science people have a great appreciation of the work of one of their own: Tim Berners-Lee, who discovered the Web while working in CERN, a Big Science lab.