Chapter 13 – Naming, documenting and contributing to e-science
Partly as a result of financial inducement, but also for methodological and substantive reasons, social scientists in the UK are beginning to engage with the wider program of ‘e-Science’. As part of a project analyzing the nature of scientific collaboration and knowledge building, we have studied a distributed group of physical scientists and their team of software developers funded under the UK e-Science program; producers and users are examined in a complex socio-economic survey dataset and a series of ethnographic archiving projects within the same UK social science department. Our studies provide insights into concrete examples of e-science practice on which current and future designers of e-Science applications can build. Secondly, the studies contribute to developments in the anthropology of science that ask about the relationship between ownership, community and disciplinarity. Finally, the studies are meant to inform ongoing discussion of the potential benefits and drawbacks of embedding e-(social) science in everyday practice and the incentive structures required to do so. We draw on elements of case studies to describe and explain the potential impact of ‘e-enabling’ on social science data, methods and expertise. We show how the future of e-Social Science depends heavily on the existing practices of disciplines. For those data that are born digital, with clear and existing practices of representation, encoding and a common set of abstractions with which to work, there seems much potential. Since current scientific collaboration often stems from the need to share very expensive resources (such as large telescopes), a driver for e-science is to remove some of the cost barriers to data and knowledge acquisition. In such situations, perhaps the single-scientist is likely to become more common.