Saturday, July 12, 2008

Science as the Evolution of Structuring Knowledge

"Science, says Kevin Kelly, is the process of changing how we know things."

So begins a lecture by Kevin Kelly in 2006 that is available in a 1 1/2 hour podcast that provides a very interesting look at the history of the development of the scientific method.

For a shorter but still interesting summary of his ideas Kelly has written about the evolution of the scientific method and gathered the views of scientists about the last 50 years.

Kelly gives an interesting perspective on the development of scientific methods. He is less interested in the minutiae of specific scientific findings, but more interested in the broad trajectory. He notes that inventions about how we store and communicate scientific information has been critical to the advancement of science.

He notes that the library with an index emerged in 280 BC, in 1410 the first cross-indexed encyclopedia was created, in 1750-1780, journals and peer-review became a part of our scientific knowledge system. In more recent times there are the developments of scientific abstracts and the electronic indexing of scientific abstracts within the last 20 years.

He summarizes the views of several scientists about the most recent developments in communicating about science noting:
"E-print -- Electronic publications and dissemination by PDF files is a major innovation. (TE) This really speeds the process up. LANL's x-server and archive of not-yet-published work was a truly revolutionary innovation. (GD) Downstream, we might hope of getting rid of proprietary, expensive journals that limit the flow of knowledge. Varmas’s technical journal for the web funded by the Gordon Moore foundation could be a biggie in this regard. (GB) A more recent and more benign change is the publication of research papers on the web. This practice is rapidly making printed journals obsolete. It has the great advantage of making research results more promptly and more widely accessible. It has the disadvantage of depriving the learned societies that publish the printed journals of their main source of income. (FD) The biggest change I experienced is the enormous increase in accessibility and speed of scientific information through the Internet (papers' immediate availability on for example, which thereafter may still be published in regular journals. (GB) Electronic publication. (BS)"
Kelly also speculates about the next level of communication in regards to what he terms "wikiscience" which he describes as "perpetually edited papers." Obviously, there are increasingly online communities of scientists working in new ways and creating new ways of communicating about their work.

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