Big Science, Nano Science

By John T. F. Burgess and Andrea L. Wright.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This article introduces the concept of nano science. This concept was inspired by the work of Derek J. de Solla Price, regarding the ways that science changed as it became part of a nation’s military-industrial complex. He noted that as the scope of science expanded, the cost of the equipment needed to conduct research increased correspondingly. Routinely, only large and wealthy institutions could produce significant findings. That is changing. Now, vast amounts of data are being gathered via the Internet. They are stored not as part of particular research projects, but because they are recognized as having intrinsic value. Computers can be used to examine existing data sets and find novel patterns. Interpretation of patterns may lead to new understandings about the world. In effect, this is scientific discovery without an initial hypothesis. This new approach to science coincides with changes in the prevalence of graduate degree holders, and with cost-reduction in computation. It is now possible for individuals, working from their home computers to contribute meaningfully to scientific discovery, but only if they have access to those existing data sets. We argue that free market pressures will lead to the commercialization of data sets, just as those pressures lead to the commercialization of knowledge and information in the 19th and 20th centuries. We assert that that unless data sets are designated as part of an intellectual commons, only those researchers whose institutions house the data will be able to make use of their potential. This represents a significant loss to society. We identify librarians as having the most appropriate skill set and ethical imperative to assume a leadership role in advocating for broad access to data sets. Empirical exploration of data storage projects is needed to determine the most cost effective way to grant broad access to data sets.

Keywords: Library and Information Science, Philosophy of Science, Information Ethics, Social Responsibilities, Nano Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.45-52. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 765.946KB).

John T. F. Burgess

Doctoral Student, College of Communication and Information Sciences, The University of Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA

My dissertation is on librarianship in light of existential risks, and acts as a teleological exploration of public libraries in the post-Cold War era. My interests include the ethics of emerging technologies, epistemology, and information ethics. My background is in systematic theology, where I focused on the dialogue between scientific and religious worldviews, and in pastoral care and counseling. I am a native of Alabama and reside there currently.

Andrea L. Wright

Technology Librarian, Baugh Biomedical Library, The University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA

Andrea works in the areas of emerging technologies in librarianship, information literacy, and social justice. She is a graduate of the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama.