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Welcome to the new world of i-Science -- a new concept taking hold among federal R&D circles, intended to fuel the acceleration of discovery and innovation. The term “i-Science” refers to Internet-based science, which means science based on radical new access to Information, Ideas, Innovations and Individuals. These are the real i’s in i-Science.
In the last decade access to new information and facts, especially research results, has increased dramatically. But science is about far more than facts, it is about ideas. New questions, hypotheses and speculations – the engine of scientific progress – circulate faster than ever before. See http://www.osti.gov/ostiblog/home/entry/sharing_results_is_the_engine Moreover, this i-Science revolution is just beginning. A great deal remains to be done to realize its full potential.
Access to innovation is also central to i-Science. Today innovative new methods, approaches and procedures are often quickly available. Most important perhaps is an unparalleled ability to find individuals that can help solve a pressing scientific problem. i-Science is really about people, not just information and ideas.
i-Science is about accelerating scientific progress. But we don't just speed up science when we provide more access to information, ideas and individuals, rather actually we change the way science is done. i-Science works in new ways. Just as the telescope and the microscope transformed the world of science in the 1700s with access to new kinds of information, so access to information and ideas is transforming science today. Life at the scientific frontier is changing, and it will change even more in the years to come. The network structure of science itself is changing.
Perhaps the most obvious examples of the way i-Science is changing how science is done is in the highly publicized cases of parallel sharing in big science. Here thousands of scientists share simultaneous access to billion dollar instruments and scientific research data. Astronomy is leading the way here, with things like the Sloan Sky Survey, as is particle physics with the Large Hadron Collider.
As astronomer Ray P. Norris recently put it, “Fundamental changes are taking place in the way we do astronomy. In twenty years time, it is likely that most astronomers will never go near a cutting-edge telescope, which will be much more efficiently operated in service mode. They will rarely analyze data, since all the leading-edge telescopes will have pipeline processors. And rather than competing to observe a particularly interesting object, astronomers will more commonly group together in large consortia to observe massive chunks of the sky in carefully designed surveys, generating petabytes of data daily. We can imagine that astronomical productivity will be higher than at any previous time. PhD students will mine enormous survey databases using sophisticated tools, cross-correlating different wavelength data over vast areas, and producing front-line astronomy results within months of starting their PhD. The expertise that now goes into planning an observation will instead be devoted to planning a foray into the databases.” (Next-generation Astronomy, 30 September 2010, http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.6027 )
Less obvious, but profoundly pervasive, is the spread of i-Science at the bench level. Bear in mind that there are over 8,000 peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world, publishing over 500,000 bench level scientific articles every year. But even this great literature is just the tip of the Internet-based information iceberg. There are hundreds of thousands of Web portals, repositories, publication pages, conference sites, databases, multimedia archives, blogs, and similar sources of vital scientific ideas. Without i-Science no scientist could possibly find useful information in more than a tiny fraction of this great mass of Web accessible thought. But i-Science is making it all findable, and changing the network structure of how science is done in the process.
For example, international collaboration has increased dramatically, because international portals like http://worldwidescience.org/ make it possible for individual scientists to find one another world wide, even if they write in different languages.
Interdisciplinary collaboration has also increased dramatically. Because scientists are no longer confined to just reading journals in their own field, they are finding collaborators across the scientific spectrum. Here one of the most important innovations is the spread of semantic search capabilities that find related articles in far flung sources. The “more-like-this” feature in OSTI’s Information Bridge and the “related articles” feature in Google Scholar are prominent examples.
In short, we are working toward the point where every scientist draws upon the whole world’s scientific knowledge, in a personally efficient manner. This is i-Science. The key concept here may be what we call “findability.” That is, how do we enable every scientist to find what they most need in this sea of published ideas? Making this sea of ideas accessible is just the start. Access must be followed by findability.
Thus we see that faster diffusion means much more than just moving ideas around. It means that scientists do things they would not have otherwise done. They work on different problems, using different methods, with different people, and drawing upon a range of new information formats, The whole structure of scientific activity changes with i-Science.