by Dr. Walt Warnick on Tue, 6 Jul, 2010
The notion that science progresses only if knowledge is shared is the reason that OSTI wascreated in 1947. Documents sent to and from President Franklin Roosevelt near the end of World War II included this rationale for sharing knowledge, and the concept was incorporated into the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 which led to the creation of OSTI.
In recent years the advent of the web has opened up the possibility of sharing knowledge with orders of magnitude more people and making it heretofore unimaginably easier to find and use. The possibility of sharing knowledge faster and better led us to formulate the OSTI Corollary in the mid-2000s: If the sharing of knowledge is accelerated, discovery is accelerated. In mathematical parlance, the Corollary might be considered the time derivative of the concept.
The Corollary seemed rather intuitive to us, but in an attempt to add authority to it, in 2005 we commissioned a rigorous literature search to learn who else in the history of science or knowledge management had stated it. We anticipated that we would be making speeches that said, “According to Professor Muckety-Muck, discovery can be accelerated by accelerating the spread of knowledge.” We were thus surprised when that literature search was unable to find any indication that the thought had been previously pursued or recorded.
Unwilling to accept this negative result and implicitly questioning the thoroughness of the literature search, we commissioned a second literature search entirely independent of the first and, if possible, even more rigorous. We were again surprised when that literature search, too, was unable to find any indication that the thought had been previously recorded.
We are left to conclude that the Corollary is OSTI’s original concept. It has profound implications for all of us in the information business. For it means that if we can only do our jobs much better and faster, then we are in fact accelerating discovery. Discovery powers the growth of our prosperity, discovery improves people’s lives, and discovery strengthens our national defense. My colleagues and I have thus been taking every opportunity to advance the Corollary, even if we could not invoke the name of an authority figure to add credibility.
We are gratified that the concept that accelerating the sharing of knowledge accelerates discovery is now being picked up by many other people outside OSTI. In fact, in the last few years, the concept has become a rather commonplace notion.
If you ask most any scientist how science can be accelerated, you are likely to hear responses like hire more scientists, provide more labs, provide better instruments, and bigger and faster computers. But decision makers have an additional way to accelerate science to achieve its benefits; namely, enable us to do our jobs faster and better.
Particularly important, the prospect of accelerating discovery animates folks at OSTI. OSTI is not just an organization with a mission. It is an organization ON a mission.