Towards a cyberinfrastructure for enhanced scientific
A new generation of information and communication infrastructures, including advanced Internet computing and Grid technologies, promises to enable more direct and shared access to more widely distributed computing resources than was previously possible. Scientific and technological collaboration, consequently, is more and more coming to be seen as critically dependent upon effective access to, and sharing of digital research data, and of the information tools that facilitate data being structured for efficient storage, search, retrieval, display and higher level analysis. A recent (February 2003) report to the U.S. NSF Directorate of Computer and Information System Engineering urged that funding be provided for a major enhancement of computer and network technologies, thereby creating a cyberinfrastructure whose facilities would support and transform the conduct of scientific and engineering research. The articulation of this programmatic vision reflects a widely shared expectation that solving the technical engineering problems associated with the advanced hardware and software systems of the cyberinfrastructure will yield revolutionary payoffs by empowering individual researchers and increasing the scale, scope and flexibility of collective research enterprises. The argument of this paper, however, is that engineering breakthroughs alone will not be enough to achieve such an outcome; success in realizing the cyberinfrastructure’s potential, if it is achieved, will more likely to be the resultant of a nexus of interrelated social, legal and technical transformations. The socio-institutional elements of a new infrastructure supporting collaboration – that is to say, its supposedly “softer” parts -- are every bit as complicated as the hardware and computer software, and, indeed, may prove much harder to devise and implement. The roots of this latter class of challenges facing “e-Science” will be seen to lie in the micro- and meso-level incentive structures created by the existing legal and administrative regimes. Although a number of these same conditions and circumstances appear to be equally significant obstacles to commercial provision of Grid services in interorganizational contexts, the domain of publicly supported scientific collaboration is held to be the more hospitable environment in which to experiment with a variety of new approaches to solving these problems. The paper concludes by proposing several “solution modalities,” including some that also could be made applicable for fields of information-intensive collaboration in business and finance that must regularly transcends organizational boundaries.
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