Proceedings of the AoIR-ASIST 2004 Workshop on Web Science Research Methods























Internet Connections in Science: The Discovery of Digital Knowledge Bases

Alexandre P. Caldas, Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, One, St. Giles – OX1 3JS Oxford, UK, alexandre.caldas @ oii.ox.ac.uk

Nicholas W. Jankowski, Visiting Fellow, Oxford Internet InstituteOxford University, University of Nijmegen. nickjan @ xs4all.nl

In this paper we explore patterns of electronic connectivity within scientific communities, the inner structure of their organisation and identify the particularly intensive “knowledge bases” related to these digital networks. We also examine survey data on the actual use of Internet technologies for scientific collaboration and compare these theoretical notions and empirical results with the main features of current UK e-Science and e-Social Science programmes.

E-Science is one of the currently fashionable terms in research policy and has the potential to reshape scientific communication and collaboration. It involves the capability of enhanced and global collaboration enabled by the Internet, often using high-performance computing networked together in distributed environments (e.g., GRID architectures). Research has demonstrated that the realisation of the benefits of e-science, its applications and services, is largely dependent upon institutional and social contexts of scientific communication and practice, more so than on the technologies being deployed. This social and organisational context of e-science is strongly related to the modes of organisation of scientific communities (off-line and on-line).

This paper examines the structural linkages of research networks on the Internet for purposes of identifying digital knowledge bases within electronic networks. Traditional (non-electronic) research networks are likely to have a digital representation (web presence), whose boundaries and characteristics require closer investigation. It is of special concern here to identify particular sub-sets of these digital networks whose properties are related to non-digital collaboration structures. Empirical evidence for electronic connectivity on the Internet is taken from a European Language and Speech Network, involving 141 research groups, known as the ELSnet network.
The paper also examines complementary data from the same community, based on a survey of more than 300 researchers, related with the actual utilisation of Internet technologies for scientific communication. A model of multi-modality in the wide spectrum of use of Internet technologies is discussed in this section. Indicators for science on the web as well as new techniques and tools for measuring electronic connectivity on the web are also discussed.

This form of science is a long ways towards acceptance in the natural sciences, but is only beginning to be explored in the social sciences. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK recently funded a series of pilot projects to explore applications relevant to e-Social Science. In a similar vein, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) announced in 2004 plans to provide similar stimulation to e-Science innovations in the social sciences and humanities. We compare the empirical and theoretical results of our previous investigations with the main features of e-Science and the UK pilot projects in an effort to determine their relevance to research in the field of communication.

Theoretical and empirical evidence from these e-Science initiatives are compared with the models derived from the analysis of electronic communication and collaboration in the language and speech community, in order to inform research policy in this regard.