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Topic 8

Transforming European science through information and communication technologies: challenges and opportunities of the digital age


In recent years, developments in information and communication technologies (ICT) have been transforming the way people work and communicate. This trend is enhanced by the ubiquitous presence of information networks (such as the Internet) which act both as multiplier and enabling mechanisms, progressively in all realms of life.

The science world is no exception to this. Quantum leap developments in processor architectures and performance and related developments in the IT sector have put computing power of an unprecedented efficiency at the fingertips of scientists around the world. Complex modelling and simulation techniques are now either available or conceivable in a foreseeable future. Data-mining allows for real exploitation of scientific databases with new applications in many disciplines, not necessarily identified up to now as IT-aware ones. In addition, advanced communication technologies allow, under certain circumstances, real-time collaborative work between people in geographically dispersed sites, but linked together over a project (the collaboratory concept).

The network revolution of the mid-nineties has given an unprecedented boost to the ICT outputs, establishing a new environment for conducting work individually and collectively linking for the first time in a functional way geographically and culturally dispersed working environments. It is significant to note that scientific teams have been the first to benefit from such possibilities. IDuring the beginning of this operation, performing tools have been invented precisely to increase collaboration between scientists. At this point the World Wide Web has emerged as the main application that enabled the present information revolution. Having equally been a scientist’s invention for mutual collaboration, it has proved the huge potential of the information age that the whole world is now trying to reap the benefits.

At the same time, a widespread debate is now engaging over the limits of the network use in producing, evaluating and publishing scientific work. Well established models of scientific behaviour are being challenged as the Internet allows alternative modes of production, judgement and distribution of knowledge. Traditional peer-review systems are being questioned and on-line versions of printed journals (or autonomous ones) are being consulted increasingly (and even preferred) over the networks. Questions of storage, preservation and access are being put, especially because of the specific nature of the digital environment. In addition, the issue of handling intellectual property rights in the digital age, proves to be extremely controversial (sometimes considered irrelevant and sometimes viewed as the main barrier to the effective development of the electronic scientific information « market »).

Not surprisingly, the question of a dedicated network infrastructure for scientific purposes is increasingly on the agenda of public debate. Recent developments in the United States (where the Internet2 academic / industry initiative combined with the Next Generation Internet (NGI) concept of the federal government are currently re-inventing the Global Information Infrastructure) have shown that the problem exists and has to be tackled. With bandwidth running out due to fast developing electronic commerce activities, the science world is re-organising its defence. Having invented the Internet and the Web, scientists discover now they have to pay more, for less quality. Their demand for special infrastructure is rising in the science fora around the world. Nevertheless the question of developing costly infrastructure for dedicated scientific use is challenging the policy makers.

Last but not least, the social and human aspects of the spread of the ICT in the science world, notably its impact on the organisation and the ethics of the science community are also part of this debate. To which extent the science community is being transformed, shaped and re-structured by the new communication means, remains an open question

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Description of topic - terms of reference

This activity will provide an assessment of the overall impact of ICT on Science in Europe and the possible implications for European Science and Technology Policy, based on existing knowledge and expertise. In particular the Group will:
Provide an overall understanding and prospective view of the main components (in methodological, organisational and cultural terms) that pertain to the process of ICT impact on European Science, taking into account relevant experience and trends. Technical aspects will be addressed only to the extent that this is deemed essential. A detailed and comprehensive technical analysis is out of scope for this report.

Identify the main challenges and opportunities for Europe in this field, as well as the main problem areas and possible ways to tackle them.

Draw relevant S&T policy options and eventual recommendations towards policy makers as well as scientific and industry communities.

Identifying the issues

In particular it will address the following questions:

What is the real magnitude of the phenomenon: is it confined to some specific groups of academics or is following a relatively homogeneous spread among S&T communities? What is the pace of ICT penetration in the S&T communities and how accurately is it measured ?

What aspects of organisation and implementation of research and knowledge creation are being fundamentally transformed by the use of ICT? (e.g. changing methods of research with the increasing use of simulation, changing relations between research and appropriate infrastructures with co-laboratories; changing concepts of scientific and grey literatures etc. )

What are the characteristics of scientific and technological communities, disciplines and institutions which determine the extent of the transformation? (e.g. level of technical education of typical researchers; development of discipline specific observation technologies, involvement of particular communities in the development of ICT hardware and software etc.). Are there any particular social characteristics of the groups that have adopted such a working approach?

What are the ethical implications for scientific work in the new ICT environment? Is the new working environment creating new rules to comply with? Can this be considered a positive or negative trend?

What are the new risks that can be avoided (and must be avoided)?

What are the opportunities and challenges posed by the transformation of the research systems for science and technology policy? (e.g. increasing globalisation of scientific production; increasing importance of « access » and « sharing »; increasing interdependence between national research systems; increasing pluralism in scientific debates; increasing public participation in scientific judgements; increasing difficulties in political control of scientific knowledge; increasing importance of access etc.).

Drawing S&T policy implications
What are the new conditions of success in the global science scenery in which Europe wants to be a frontrunner? Can we bridge existing and avoid new global disparities in the new conditions of conduct and exploitation of science? What are the infrastructure implications for less favoured regions? What are the challenges and opportunities for the education and training systems and the education of scientists themselves?

What is the appropriate role of the public and private sectors in this area?: should governments take some initiatives to act as catalysts in providing models and seed money (the U.S. N.S.F. example)? Where can one draw the limits of public policy in this field? In this light, what are appropriate forms of interaction between the public and private sector? Is a new partnership desirable or inevitable?

What could be the role of the academic and industrial communities in bringing forward and developing new interfaces for joint action?

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Members of the working group

Chair :

Ian Butterworth
The Blacket Laboratory, Imperial College, London
Vice-President Academia Europaea, London, United Kingdom
e-mail: (email removed)

Rapporteur :

Marja Erola
National Technology Agency Tekes, Helsinki, Finland
e-mail: (email removed)

Members :
Jan Annerstedt
Nordic Center for Innovation, Lund, Sweden
and the Scandinavian Academy of Management Studies
Copenhagen, Denmark
e-mail: (email removed)
e-mail: (email removed)
Hans Dieter Boecker
GMD-IPSI, Darmstadt, Germany
e-mail: (email removed)
Jean Michel Chassériaux
IRD, France
and Paris-VII University, Paris, France
e-mail: (email removed)
Erich Neuhold
GMD-IPSI, Darmstadt, Germany
email: (email removed)
Constantinos Dallas
Department of Communication and Mass Media, Panteion University, Athens, Greece
e-mail:. (email removed)
John P. Walsh
Department of Sociology
University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
e-mail: (email removed)
Pieter J.D. Drenth
Faculty of Psychology, Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
e-mail: (email removed)
Paolo Zanella
The European Bioinformatics Institute
Cambridge / Synomics Ltd, United Kingdom
e-mail: (email removed)
Simon Mitton
Science and Professional Publishing
Cambridge University Press
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
e-mail: (email removed)

Commission officer responsible
Dimitri Corpakis
European Commission
Rue de la loi, 200
B-1049 Bruxelles
e-mail: (email removed)

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Reports and Documents

  • Working paper: "Transforming European Science through information and communication technologies : challenges and opportunities of the digital age" - Document downloadable in MS WORD and PDF

Events and conferences

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This page provides a reference to a limited number of selected activities, documents (available in the public domain) and other useful information with a particular significance for the tasks of the Working Group. While it is primarly a working space for the group itself, we have considered it useful to keep this resource open to all interested parties and also open to contributions.

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Last Updated: 28-10-1999
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