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Communications of the ACM


Soft Infrastructure Challenges to Scientific Knowledge Discovery

Soft Infrastructure Challenges to Scientific Knowledge Discovery, illustration

Credit: pogonici

Open network environments have become essential in the sciences, enabling accelerated discovery and communication of knowledge. The genomics revolution, for example, involved gene-sequencing machines that accelerated genome mapping. Yet, the real revolution began when open community databases allowed researchers to build on existing contributions and compare their results to established knowledge. Such payoffs have spread to other fields through exploitation of open geographic information systems and open social network data. In another example, "citizen science" engages people not previously involved in science in data collection and analysis via technology-supported, distributed collaboration. Transforming scientific knowledge discovery requires collaboration among specialists in domain sciences (for example, chemistry, geology, physics, molecular biology), the computing sciences, and the human sciences. The very nature of scientific knowledge discovery is changing.

The computing research community should be interested in these developments. Computing research is affected by these changes, and computing in general plays a special role in the technologies that make such progress possible. The National Research Council's (NRC) Board on Research Data and Information (BRDI) has been working on this topic (see the accompanying sidebar). New techniques and methods can help achieve new benefits at reduced time and cost. However, there are also significant barriers that are nontechnical in nature, which this Viewpoint highlights.


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