Chapter 6 – The Rise of e-Science in Asia. Dreams and Realities for Social Science Research: Case Studies of Singapore and South Korea

Carol Soon, and Han Woo Park

Abstract
In spite of the growing interest in e-science and e-research among scholars as well as policy-makers, most of the existing published works concentrate on the developments in the Western countries, such as in the United States and United Kingdom. To address the imbalance in existing literature, this chapter focuses primarily on issues related to scholarly practice in e-research within the context of Asian countries. Amongst countries in Asia-Pacific, both South Korea and Singapore have acquired internationally recognized status for their strong Internet networks. Technological discourse dominates the education and digital media scenes in Singapore with technology perceived as an indispensable tool in ensuring that the small nation-state with no natural resources stay ahead of its competition, and South Korea functions as an important node in advanced international and regional research networks. In spite of the clear emergence of e-science as a new way to conduct research and development, little is known about the practices of e-social science research and how these emerging tools help to facilitate Asian scholars in conducting better research and collaboration in the digital age. By adopting a reflective approach, we trace the evolution and attempts to leverage on e-science in these two Asian countries.


INTRODUCTION

In spite of the growing interest in e-science and e-research among scholars as well as policy-makers, most of the existing published works concentrate on the developments in the Western countries, such as in the U.S. and U.K. To address the research gap in existing literature, this chapter focuses primarily on issues related to scholarly practice in e-research within the context of Asian countries. Amongst countries in Asia-Pacific, both South Korea and Singapore have acquired internationally-recognized status for their strong Internet networks. Technological discourse dominates the education and digital media scenes in Singapore with technology perceived as an indispensable tool in ensuring that the small nation-state stay ahead of its competition, and South Korea functions as an important node in both international and regional research networks. In spite of the clear emergence of e-science as a new way to conduct research and development, little is known about the practices of e-social science research and if, and how these tools facilitate Asian scholars in conducting better research and collaboration in the digital age. Through the insights gained from policy reviews, in-depth interviews with policymakers and social scientists from diversified research backgrounds, this chapter elucidates the general imperatives behind e-science programs in Asia and the state of e-science application in the fields of social sciences. We also identify the key challenges that inhibit the transformation of the e-science dream into a reality for social science scholars and propose recommendations on how some of these barriers may be overcome.

The Relevance of E-science in Two Tiger Economies

The emergence of the networked economy has brought about significant changes in how information communication technologies (ICTs) are used and adopted in the political, economical and social realms. The application of science and technology in these areas is nothing new, as for decades, scholars have studied the use and effects of ICTs in various aspects of our lives. However, as nations compete against one another to stay ahead in the game of technological innovation and creation, our attention is drawn to the emergence of e-science as a new and dramatically different approach in re-conceptualizing and conducting research. E-science has been defined as “uses of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructures for storing scientific data, performing analyzes and carrying out collaborative work, often known in the U.S. as cyber-infrastructures and in the U.K. as e-science” (Hine, 2006: viii). It is evident that even the West where the concept of e-science originates from, the development of ICT networks and infrastructures for purposes of research and development is clearly dominated by data-intensive disciplines such as particle physics, astronomy, biology and genetics (Hey, 2006; Hine, 2006; Wouters & Beaulieu, 2006). Most of the existing literature concentrates on the developments in the Western countries, such as in the U.S. and U.K. To address this lacuna in scholarly knowledge of e-science in the East, we have selected Singapore and South Korea (hereafter Korea) as two case studies to examine the development of e-science and the emerging issues related to scholarly practice in e-research within the context of Asian countries.

Together with Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea were known as the four successful Tiger economies (Koh & Poh, 2005). In their analysis of the critical role science and technology policy plays in an economy’s transition from an industrial economy to an innovation-based economy, Koh and Poh (2005) draw from the cases of Korea and Singapore to demonstrate how developing nations make tremendous progress in their economy by focusing on delivering strategic technology and innovation policies to advance the technological sophistication of their industries. Both the Singaporean and the Korean governments have recently increased their funding of research and development activities to further enhance the countries’ science and technological prowess. Announced February 2006, the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has committed a total of US$7.5billion to drive economic-oriented research and development to sustain innovation-driven growth especially in growing industry sectors such as the life sciences and digital media in the next five years (Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore, Science & Technology Plan 2010, 2006). The Korean government publicized that it will increase its funding of research and development by more than 15%, from US$8 billion in 2005 to US$9.2 billion in 2006 to create technology-driven small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), foster collaboration between businesses and universities and research institutions, as well as boost its biotechnology industry.

In view of the early stages of technology adoption and paucity of innovation creation in many Asian nations, Singapore and Korea have been selected as the case studies for this chapter. These two countries have won international accolades for the dramatic progress made in technology development and their ability to leverage on science and technology to advance the economy. As the following sections will illustrate, although the governments in both countries play an enabling role in launching e-science developments, the current emphasis and the rationale for the e-science programs in the two countries are different.

ICT DEVELOPMENTS AS THE ECONOMY DRIVER IN SINGAPORE

When it achieved its independence in 1965, Singapore as a newborn nation-state had to grapple with geo-political challenges and the scarcity of natural resources in its fight for survival. In a short span of about 40 years, the growth pace of the small nation-state has been phenomenal, averaging 8% per annum, an achievement that has been attributed to the government’s sound economic planning and focused efforts to attract foreign investments in various industrial sectors (Koh & Poh, 2005). One of the factors that accounts for Singapore’s rapid advancement from a Third World to First World status is attributed to the leap-frogging of the economy from the manufacturing stage to the innovation-based stage. The 1990s witnessed a slight shift in the policymakers’ priority as they embarked to transform the island with a four-million-plus population into an information hub, trading in ideas rather than commodities. The information technology (IT) initiatives, such as the Singapore IT2000 “A Vision of an Intelligent Island” Masterplan and Infocomm 21 Strategy, that were rolled out by the Singapore government in several phases were critical to the nation’s economic transformation. Under the Singapore IT2000 “A Vision of an Intelligent Island” Masterplan and Infocomm 21 Strategy, the government aimed to create a digital future for Singapore, a future where innovation, entrepreneurship and e-lifestyle are the norm. Early success was evident and by 2006, home computer penetration among surveyed households reached 78%, with 38% of the households having access to two or more computers, and 71% of households have Internet access (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals for 2006, 2007). The success of the IT programs was attributed to the government’s efforts to promote infocomm usage in the workforce and among the general public, and emphasizing infocomm usage in the school curriculum.

While this approach has enabled the small nation-state to move from Third World to First World status, it soon became clear to the government that a new strategy which emphasizes innovation and technology creation, as opposed to merely engaging in technology adoption and application, is needed to advance the economy further at the increasingly competitive global technological frontier (Koh and Poh, 2005). The current strategy, the Infocomm Technology Roadmap, will drive the creation of user-driven innovations comprising hardware, software and systems in the next ten years (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, Technology Roadmap, 2007). In the next section, we will examine how e-science serves as a platform for the government to propel the efficiency of resource use in key industries in Singapore to a higher level.

E-science Application Driven By Economic Imperatives

Established in 2003, the National Grid Office (NGO) is part of the Infrastructure Development division in the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). The NGO views the next-generation cyber-infrastructure as playing a vital role in increasing Singapore’s economic and technological competitiveness in the long run, with networked collaborations facilitating the sharing of resources for the purposes of research and development, commerce, entertainment and national security. By formulating the grid framework and policies, developing a secure platform and encouraging the adoption of Grid computing, the NGO’s ultimate goal is to aid the transformation of the Singapore economy using grid. Other than the stated mission, the economic slant of the applications of the grid infrastructure is reflected in the overall organizational structure of the National Grid Steering Committee (NGSC) within which it sits (see Figure 6.1).

Established in late 2002, the primary objective of the NGSC was to bring together diverse stakeholders in a collaborative manner in identifying key areas to which the scarce resources for the National Grid should be deployed. Other than the government bodies (e.g. Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, Economic Development Board and Ministry of Health), universities, research institutes and the industry, representatives from key target industry sectors identified to be the launch pads and test beds of the grid infrastructure (e.g., physical sciences, life sciences, digital media, manufacturing, education and financial services) also sit in the NGSC to provide greater insights from the end-user and grid application perspectives. They include MediaCorp Technologies, Lilly Systems Biology and Philips Electronics.

A pilot project launched in 2003, the National Grid Pilot Platform (NGPP) is a multi-agency pilot project set out to increase awareness for grid computing, promote collaboration among different resource owners and potential grid users, and interconnect compute resources. The latest phase seeks to extend high productivity computing, storage and software facilities to all businesses, especially the SMEs. The Call-For-Collaboration launched by the IDA on 23 November 2007 aims to bring together keen grid service providers and independent software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors to provide related infocomm resources on a pay-per-use basis. For instance, to complement the government’s S$500million strategy launched in 2006 to drive research and development in the Interactive & Digital Media (IDM) sector, the NGSC launched a project that promotes access to the large amount of compute resources on the NGPP with the aim of enabling digital media SMEs to undertake higher-quality and larger sized projects farmed out by overseas studios and production houses. One critical outcome is SMEs no longer have to make heavy investments in hardware and software as they only need to pay for resource usage when on a need-basis. Moreover, SMEs do not have to contend with the problem of non-usage of resources when hardware and software are not used in between projects.

It is evident that in the case of Singapore, top-level support by the government and the funding provided for the many initiatives and programs, complemented by strong user support from key industrial sectors, has been crucial in pushing the grid initiative. In June 2007, the IDA formed the National Grid Advisory Council (NGAC) which is tasked with increasing industry adoption of grid computing in key economic sectors such as digital media, life sciences, finance and banking, and manufacturing services, some sectors that were previously not part of the e-science vision for Singapore. Such a commitment clearly articulates the government’s focus and persistent efforts to promote resource optimization and increase cost savings by businesses in various sectors through leveraging on the grid environment. Singapore’s ability to deploy grid technology to fulfill its economic agenda is recognized at the international level. As part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Singapore will be leading member economies to collaborate on grid projects that will drive common areas of interest and benefit APEC economies.

 

THE DOMINANCE OF TECHNOLOGICAL DISCOURSE IN KOREA

It has been widely observed among scholars (Na, 2001; Park, 2002; Park & Biddix, 2008; Rose, 2003) that the consumption of ICTs has become part of the discourse of globalization in the Korean media and has been portrayed as a key facilitator for entry into a global or information society. This recurring theme was manifested more strongly after the financial crisis of 1997 when the government focused on promoting the IT industry and launched a series of policies, such as ‘Cyber Korea 21’ in 1999 and ‘Ubiquitous Korea Vision 2006’ (Yoon, 2006). As of December 2006, about 74.8% of the entire Korean population used the Internet (NIDA, 2007). The dramatic expansion of high-speed Internet service system attracted much international attention and Korea was ranked by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the second in the world in terms of diffusion of high-speed Internet service systems (ITU, 2006). The Korean government has played a vital role in spearheading initiatives and implementing policies to engender an Internet-literate population and exploit the benefits of ICTs to guarantee its entrance to the global economy (Yoon, 2006). The following section provides a brief overview of how the Korean government attempts to strengthen its foothold on the global technological frontier by leveraging on e-science to advance research and development.

 

E-science Bolstering Scientific Advancements Locally And Internationally

The main focus of Korea’s national e-science programs are on enhancing scientific research through the application of high-performance computing coupled with high bandwidth networks in natural sciences and engineering sciences. Since the year 2005, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and its subordinate organization, the Korean Institute for Science Technology Information (KISTI), have been largely responsible for national cyber-research-infrastructure. MOST has implemented important policies on the development of e-science, for example, shared access to supercomputers and advanced research platforms. As the grid is being perceived as a key infrastructure for e-science activities that will propel adopting nations into a higher level of research and development, Korea joined the emerging global trend through the introduction of its nationwide grid program known as K*Grid in 2002 which saw the construction of grid testbeds and provision of basic grid services to computing centers and university laboratories (Cho, 2007). The birth of e-science programs in Korea stemmed from the government’s mission to integrate and apply cyber-infrastructures for scientific advancements in the country.

In parallel with the K*Grid project, the Access Grid (AG) program was implemented in 2002 and it serves as a collaborative working space where scientists are able to make use of a variety of research resources, presentation applications, and audio/visual facilities for distance collaboration. More recently, the key e-science policy goals laid out for MOST during the period of 2005 and 2007 center on building a testbed for preliminary e-science research environment. In the course of the next four years from 2008 to 2011, MOST will focus on building an applied research environment for e-science and establishing technology-assisted center. Table 6.1 summarizes the expenditure for three categories from 2005 to 2007. The largest portion of government budget was spent on developing and improving basic and common softwares as part of developing an integrated system for integrated collaboration in the various research fields (NIA, 2007b).

 

Table 6.1: Expenditure of national e-science budget (unit: 100,000,000 won)

Items 

 

2005 2006 2007 Total
Common software development and improvement 

 

13 13 67 93
Applied environment construction 

 

11 8 20 39
Outcome diffusion and public relations 

 

1 1 1 3
Total 

 

25 22 88 135

Source: Byun (2007).

 

Advanced Research Networks Spurring Collaboration

The Advanced Research Network (ARN), which is Korea’s recent e-science program, is another testimony of the clarity of the Korean government’s vision in creating and delivering a series of research environments linking scientists and engineers from diverse disciplines in different research institutions together. In Korea, ARNs exist at both the international and domestic levels, and are available for those who conduct distance research collaborations. The international network comprises GLORIAD (GLObal Ring network for Advanced application Development), APII (Asia Pacific Information Infrastructure Testbed), and TEIN (Trans-Eurasia Information Network). Six member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community have taken part in APII since 1996 and it is often used for information technology-related research. GLORIAD, on the other hand, is a global network that includes Asia, Europe, and North America, and it provides the first high-performance networks with global audience and serves as international connections for e-science and Grid applications. On the domestic front, the Korea Research Environment Open Network (KREONET) is the first national ARN which was launched in 1988. The significance of the KREONET is that it avails collaborative services such as the communal use of sophisticated research facility and massive storage to about 200 major national research institutions and 100,000 users within a Daeduck research park (see Figure 6.2).

The focus of e-science initiatives in Korea up to this point, which are channeled towards facilitating and furthering research in natural sciences, engineering sciences and information technology development, is different from the approach adopted in Singapore where the development and application of e-science technologies such as grid networks are geared towards optimizing resource utilization and maximize cost savings. Set against the context of heavy government involvement in e-science in both Singapore and Korea, the next section provides an overview of what we perceive to be the relevance of e-science to the field of social sciences. From in-depth interviews conducted with scholars who are engaged in studying social phenomena that are emerging on the World Wide Web, we provide insights into the potential role of e-science in these two technologically advanced Asian countries and the implications of harnessing e-science in social science research on policy and researchers’ attitudinal disposition towards e-science as a method of data collection and analysis.

 

POTENTIAL OF E-SCIENCE IN SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH IN SINGAPORE AND KOREA

As the development of enormous computing power and the capacity to process and store huge amounts of data poses a promising future beyond natural and engineering fields, social scientists are quite aware of and want to leverage the affordances of cyber-infrastructures. In spite of this realization, the adoption and application of e-science in the social sciences has been slower than in the other scientific fields. For instance, across the social sciences and humanities in Korea, researchers have not found themselves wanting to use the new collaborative and research tools that have arisen with e-science technology (Jeong, 2007; NIA, 2007b). In this section, we share critical insights gained from interviewing scholars from three research projects. These projects were selected because they reflect the rich diversity in social science research (web archiving, cultural analytics of content sharing and the analysis of political Web spheres) as well as the different challenges encountered. Interviews were conducted with the primary investigators of these projects to find out if and how their work leverages on any form of e-science, their vision on how e-science applications such as the grid infrastructure can be utilized to meet their research goals, as well as to elicit their views on main challenges that social scientists and humanities scholars encounter in e-science.

 

Asian Tsunami Web Archive

In the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Southern Asia on 26 December 2004 which created ripples of the catastrophic effects across the globe, researchers from different parts of the world converged and created the Asian Tsunami Web Archive (http://tsunami.archive.org/). The researchers behind this project observed how the global reach and easy access afforded by the medium of the World Wide Web made it possible for individuals from all over the world to obtain information on the Asian Tsunami and set up websites to share this information at a rapid speed. A project that crosses geographical boundaries and involves international collaborators, the Asian Tsunami Web Archives was a project spearheaded by the Singapore Internet Research Centre (SIRC), part of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in the Nanyang Technological University. Together with the Internet Archives and Webarchive.org which are based in the United States, the collection of relevant web materials commenced within a week after the calamity occurred. The investigators set out to collect data from the web to find out how citizens, informal web publishers and official agencies make use of the Internet in response to the tsunami; the information flow among different publishers; and the type of web archiving technology development in the future which may engender a quicker response to events of such a large scale. The data that was collected over a period of six months spanned over 40 countries and within the first four weeks after the tsunami occurred, a total of about 1,599 sites in multiple languages were collected, with the total data size running into terabytes. The data which was collected came in different forms and included email archives, hyperlink structures and snapshots of the websites as well as the social networking patterns of the collaborative parties.

In our interview with Senior Fellow Paul Wu, one of the primary investigators from the SIRC, he identified three main factors that are crucial to the success of such collaboration and the collection of massive data on the World Wide Web – technology, manpower and resources in terms of finances and expertise. The expertise and knowledge required for the development of technological applications, such as a comprehensive archival system that does not just collect but aid in the analysis of data are currently lacking in the local context. In the case of the Asian Tsunami Web Archive, Internet Archives supplied the technology in the form of the actual crawling machine and Webarchive.org supplied and aided in the application of the web sphere methodology. Identifying a prevalent issue that is not unique to Singapore, Wu identifies the lack of knowledge and expertise among social scientists as the main impediment to the use of e-science for data collection and analysis purposes. Due to the intricate and specialized knowledge that is needed at both developmental and usage purposes, there is a tendency for social scientists to shy away from using e-science applications. This problem is further compounded by the nature and type of data typically collected in social science research insufficiently justifies the investment in both time and money to embrace e-science applications like grid infrastructure. However, the World Wide Web is fast growing as a rich site where social phenomena of myriad forms can be observed (Wu & Heok, 2005). As such, the need to innovate and explore the adoption of e-science techniques may soon become a prerequisite for studies of social phenomena unconstrained by geographical boundaries. From the collaborative Asian Tsunami Web Archive project, Wu and Heok observed that “more countries are beginning to realize that it is mutually beneficial to collaborate as the web is ever changing, growing and connecting beyond the convenient demarcation of a nation’s web boundary” (Wu & Heok, 2006, p.10). In addition, other than the need for greater collaboration among social scientists to leverage on one another’s expertise and resources, there is also a need for cross-disciplinary cooperation between scholars and researchers from the social sciences and information science backgrounds.

 

The Creative Commons project

In the age of the Internet where users of the technology are no longer just consumers of media content, but have also assumed the role of content producers, the use of Creative Commons licenses is becoming an increasingly popular approach to license creative work among authors who want to promote the sharing and use of their work. In one of their most recent work, Cheliotis, Chikm Guglani and Tayi (2007) analyzed the worldwide use of Creative Commons licenses, in particularly the popularity of different license types and the various legal, economic and geopolitical factors which may account for their popularity. In their study, commercial search engines like Google and Yahoo! were deployed to collect data. The back-link and specialized Creative Commons search functions, as well as dictionary searches were used to answer broad questions that provide a macro view of the Creative Commons, such as the number of people using the different licenses and how they use the licenses in various parts of the world. However, there exist severe limitations to such a method as such techniques did not allow researchers to embark on a micro analysis of the emerging trends in Creative Commons in understanding the specific and different types of users who use Creative Commons licenses, how Creative Commons licenses are used for different media types, the communication exchanges between content users and re-users, and the motivations behind the use of these licenses. This is because in order to provide a more microscopic and qualitative analysis of the world of the Creative Commons, data has to be collected from specific web communities. What this means is that data sizes are potentially massive, depending on the data source. Currently, only snapshots of web communities are collected and the vision for Creative Commons researchers is to collect huge amounts of data in real time, a task which will require large computational resources that are networked to facilitate cooperation and teamwork among geographically-dispersed researchers. In our interview with Cheliotis, he highlighted the significance of e-science such as the use of some form of grid infrastructure for research work like his:

There is a strong need for some form of e-science and we need to address the issue of obtaining funding to create a network that will connect researchers who are physically disconnected from one another. If not, we can only work with limited case studies and make observations in snapshots. We aspire to generate real-time data and visualizations that will be updated continuously. To achieve that, we need to work with many researchers and a lot of computational power. (G. Cheliotis, interview, January 4, 2008)

As media literacy skills evolve, we are seeing an increasing number of people going online to consume, produce, distribute and share media content. Like Wu, Cheliotis envisages the World Wide Web to be a growing site of rich data that is waiting to be mined and studied, where existing data can be used to provide extensive insights into cultural flows that are taking place in the cyberspace. Although more social scientists are realizing that much more could be done with the vast data available online, Cheliotis identifies finding the right manpower resources and expertise to manage such projects and bring them to fruition as the main challenge. In addition, getting people to invest in exporting their current research applications to the grid environment is another barrier that may inhibit the adoption of e-science applications. In order for social science researchers to leverage on the grid infrastructure which will afford them greater computation power to conduct data collection and analysis in an unprecedented scale, they will have to adapt their existing programs and systems to the grid environment, a task may appear insurmountable to many given the relative lack of the necessary knowledge and expertise to do so within the social sciences.

 

Korea’s Political Web Sphere Study

The second author of this chapter has been a principal investigator in a research project supported by the Korean Research Foundation Grant from December 2004 to November 2007. This project is composed of three main areas – the comparison of Korea’s electoral Web sphere with those of other countries (Jankowski, 2007); the analysis of the structure of online relational networking amongst official political websites and personal blogs of elected politicians and citizen blogs (Park, Thelwall, & Kluver, 2005; Park & Jankowski, 2008; Park & Kluver, 2008 forthcoming); and a cross-national comparison of websites produced by Japanese and Korean politicians (Tkach-Kawasaki & Park, 2007). Through this research project, the second author had to collaborate with several oversea scholars in the areas of brainstorming, writing together, data-collecting/sharing, and conferencing. However, most of these activities were done through commercial softwares (e.g., Skype, MS office and Webdex). These proprietary programs were neither safe nor confidential enough to conduct scientific communication. However, public e-science communication tools in the social sciences such as instantaneous Q&A information sharing systems and mutual writing/proof-reading documentary softwares are rare in many nations with strong Internet infrastructure, including Korea. Therefore, the development of public e-science tools for scholarly communication particularly among social scientists needs to be perceived as an important policy issue. Given the differences in the socio-cultural work systems of research across different disciplines, we expect that a set of e-science technologies targeted for hard sciences may not be applicable to the scientific activity of social scientists. The AG in Korean could have been used to carry out some of these tasks in social science and humanities research but, to the best of our knowledge, there are no social scientists among current users (Moon, 2006; Uram, 2007).

In addition, access to virtual collaboration with massive data storage capacity and advanced research network would have greatly enhanced the quality of a cross-national research project that examined the different styles and practices of politician websites between Korea and Japan. This project entailed the downloading and storage of entire websites of individual politicians using the Offline Explorer, a paid program that allows one to download certain website and navigate the site offline. Due to the limited bandwidth capacity of ordinary Internet network, it was not possible to share archived websites with the Japanese collaborator. Only screen-shots were exchanged via email. As evident from Table 6.2 which lists the breakdown of Korean politician websites in terms of website size, number of folders, and number of files, the data collected in this project was immense and the researchers would have much to benefit from leveraging on a grid network for purposes of collecting, sharing, storing and visualizing the data.

Table 6.2: Website sizes of Korean politician homepages

Item 

 

Website size (byte) 

 

No. of folders 

 

No. of files 

 

Median 

 

269,590,955 

 

84 

 

1,728 

 

Minimum 

 

292,202 

 

 

11 

 

Maximum 

 

4,177,982,280 

 

2,088 

 

11,500 

 

N = 277

 

WHAT E-SCIENCE HOLD FOR THE SOCIAL SCIENCES IN ASIA

Each of the three research projects presented in this chapter has elucidated the potential effects e-science can unleash in the field of social science research and by recounting the difficulties and challenges pertaining to data collection and analysis of large data sets, they highlight some of the pertinent issues prevalent in the process of engaging in this new advanced form of scientific research. With the World Wide Web expanding by the day as a site that houses immense data which promises to enrich our knowledge of life on and off the web, there is an increasing need among social scientists and humanities scholars to explore and harness new technologies and for research work and collaboration. However, the uptake of e-science in the social sciences has been slower than in the other scientific fields. As highlighted in the interviews, some of the prevalent issues that dominate the discourse of harnessing e-science in the social sciences and humanities are the lack of expertise and knowledge, research budgets, available facilities, and research practices for scientific inquiry. Koh and Poh (2005) suggest that governments play four different roles in structuring the science and technology policy and in fostering technology creation and adoption: nurturing a productive research and development culture that is linked to higher education, acting as the principal investor either directly or indirectly through its agencies in areas of research, lowering the cost of risk by encouraging strong university-industry interactions, and facilitating the commercialization of publicly financed research. In cognizance of this framework, there are several possible directions to boost both the adoption and application of e-science in the social sciences in Asia.

One of the main obstacles that stand in the way of social scientists and humanities is the lack of technical knowledge and skills which prevent them from approaching and embracing new technologies to conduct research work. There are perhaps several ways to help overcome this barrier, one of which is for more government funding and training programs to be dedicated to training social scientists and humanities scholars in the use of e-science applications. Since 2004, the NGO in Singapore has conducted more than 20 grid computing courses to over 400 people from the research and development, and academic communities in 2004 through its National Grid Competency Centre (Agency for Science, Technology and Research, 2005). This training program was aimed at improving the competency and proficiency of ICT professionals in Singapore, particularly in terms of building their expertise in grid computing. Similar programs tailored to the needs of social science and humanities scholars can be considered. One area of training that may enhance social scientists’ knowledge and skills in data collection lies in the field of link analysis, often referred to as the most promising area where Internet studies and e-science can meet (Ackland et al., 2006; Park & Thelwall, 2003). Currently, none of the non-commercial crawlers is superior to major commercial search engines in terms of the coverage of World Wide Web. In order to conduct more effective link analysis in the e-science age, researchers should be armed with new skills and roles for scholars and librarians redefined (Nentwich, 2003).

Another way to help overcome researchers’ inhibitions about e-science applications is to study the specific demands from the social sciences and the humanities during the early stages of conceptualization and design of these technologies. This echoes Wouters and Beaulieu’s observation that the development of e-science infrastructure is mainly informed by computationally-oriented research, and “input from humanities has so far been virtually nonexistent and input from the social sciences scarce” (Wouters & Beaulieu, 2006, p.57). So far, user studies have typically examined the number/types of information sources, new requests for scholarly databases/repositories, and library interface improvements. For instance, The Ministry of Education in Korea, through the Korea Research Foundation, has broadly drafted policy programs for the social sciences and humanities. The e-research programs they initiated include electronic indexing (e.g., Korean Citation Index), websites of academic organizations, and a publicly accessible article repository. Electronic information systems and repositories specialized for science and technology researchers are being developed by the National Technical Information Service. However, such user research does not properly capture a ‘revolutionary’ transformation of the scientific enterprise which is witnessed to be underway. One possible measure to consider on the level of policy-making is to elicit specific demands and feedback from scholars who have a strong desire and need to adopt e-science technologies in their projects on the role e-science can play in their research processes can be taken. In Singapore, the government is spearheading e-science initiatives such as SG@School and Web Archive Singapore which are realms beyond the ‘hard sciences’. In these instances, social scientists may be more involved at the early stages of program conceptualization to ideate the requirements and specifications for infrastructure and program design to enhance the feasibility of application and adoption among social scientists. In addition, such involvement has the potential to make significant advancements in developing a middle-ware that can be used easily by researchers in the social sciences.

Perhaps, one of the most crucial changes that need to take place is the mindset shift among social scientists and humanities scholars. The current impediments to embracing e-science such as investments in both manpower and funding notwithstanding, scholars and researchers in the soft sciences need to recognize and acknowledge the opportunities that are avail with leveraging on e-science technologies, such as access to vast data and new modes of data collection and analysis. The emerging era of networked research leads to two possible scenarios that must exist to realize the dreams of e-science. Education and training programs have to be put in place to produce a new breed of social scientists with combined expertise and knowledge of computational science and social sciences. Perhaps, what is more actionable in the shorter term is to engender and promote collaborative efforts between these different fields. In an interview with Mr Lee Hyung-Jin, an associate researcher in KISTI, he affirmed the lack of e-social-science research in Korea. There appears to be a lack of desire for either distance international collaboration through the Grid or the use of high performance computing facilities among social scientists (H.J. Lee, interview, March 17 & 18, 2008). Although possibilities in funding research projects that leverage on e-science technologies by government bodies such as KISTI exist, demand is in the present lacking, as social scientists’ current choices for their research practices are still predominantly shaped by offline facilities rather than online technology capabilities.

Echoing the need to engender a change in mindset among target users of e-science technologies, Lee Hing-Yan, the Program Director of the NGO mentioned that “the primary concern to the NGSC was not technological issues, which they believed would be addressed, but social ones, such as whether the resource owners would share idle CPUs and storage, and whether users would collaborate over the grid” (H.Y. Lee, interview, December 10, 2007). In sharing the NGPP experience, Lee Hing-Yan commented that the initiative was an important milestone in the grid initiative as social and mindset issues were addressed and resolved. The success of this pilot effort is evident from the impressive expansion of a humble and limited base of 200 central processing units (CPUs) in 2003 to more than 1000 CPUs. What is notable in the case of NGPP’s success is that the accumulation of computing resources was made possible only through voluntary contribution from organizations which housed spare idle compute-resources. The NGPP provided an opportunity to break down the barriers between different resource owners and promote the sharing of idle and spare resources. H.Y. Lee aptly summed it up when he said, “Until the researchers are prepared to work together, the hoped-for distributed collaboration to address a large science problem will not happen” (H.Y. Lee, interview, December 10, 2007). As we call for policy-makers and technology developers to involve social scientists and humanities scholars such as during the early stages of technology conceptualization and design, there is also a need for a transformation at another level – researchers in the social sciences have to perceive and acknowledge the value and the significance of their involvement. This is because the benefits and advantages of e-science technologies can only be realized within the social sciences with perceptual and attitudinal shifts amongst policy-makers and users.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors would like to express their gratitude to Lee Hing Yan, Lee Hyung-Jin, Giorgos Cheliotis and Paul Wu for contributing to this chapter with their time and invaluable insights. Special thanks to Lonce Wyse and Lee Hyung-Jin for their comments and suggestions.

 

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