August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
John Wilbanks, Science Commons

Conclusion: cyberinfrastructure for knowledge sharing

The Neurocommons project is a very good start. It shows the potential of shared knowledge systems built on open content. And it has the potential to explode through horizontal downloading, editing, and reposting, as the Web exploded. The idea of connectivity via “viewing source” is an explicit part of our design methodology, and our tools have already been picked up and integrated into such systems as the Mouse BIRN Atlasing Toolkit (MBAT), which was built from the combined efforts of groups within the Mouse BIRN (Biomedical Informatics Research Network, a distributed network of researchers with more than $25,000,000 in U.S. Government funding).

But the Neurocommons is, at root, a proof of concept. And from it we are learning some basic lessons about the need for infrastructure for knowledge sharing. Science Commons is on a daily basis forced to create namespaces, persistent URLs, and line after line of “plumbing code” to wire together knowledge sources.

If we are going to get to the goal stated above, of dramatic increases in efficiency and radical transformation of outmoded discovery models, we are going to need a lot of infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist.

We need publishers to look for business models that aren’t based on locking up the full text, because the contents of the journals – the knowledge – is itself part of the infrastructure, and closed infrastructure doesn’t yield network effects. We need open, stable namespaces for scientific entities that we can use in programming and integrating databases on the open Web, because stable names are part of the infrastructure. We need real solutions about long-term preservation of data (long-term meaning a hundred years or more). We need new browsers and better text processing. We need a sense of what it means to “publish” in a truly digital sense, in place of the digitization of the paper metaphor we have in the PDF format. We need infrastructure that makes it easy to share and integrate knowledge, not just publish it on the Web.

None of this is easy. Much of it is very, very hard. But the current system is simply not working. And the reward of pulling together what we already know into open view, in open formats, where geniuses can process and exploit it, could be a world in which it is faster, easier, and cheaper to find drugs and cure disease. This is possible. We just have to have the vision and courage to build the highways.

1See sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/artic... – the relevant citations require subscriptions or $30 fees, for information on our work against this problem, see our Scholar’s Copyright Project.
2See siepr.stanford.edu/programs/SST_Seminars/walsh.pdf, illustrating the benefits of self-archiving.

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Reference this article
Wilbanks, J. "Cyberinfrastructure For Knowledge Sharing," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/cyberinfrastructure-for-knowledge-sharing/

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