Chapter 8 – Moving from Small Science to Big Science: Social and Organizational Impediments to Large Scale Data Sharing

Eric Meyer

This chapter discusses some of the issues that arise when small scientific projects make the transition to becoming part of larger scientific collaborations, as seen from a social informatics perspective. The data is drawn from two cases: a systematic study of a humpback whale research project involving federating data about the population and movements of humpbacks in the Pacific Ocean, and observations based on the author’s personal experiences as part of a psychiatric genetics collaboration that has recently become involved in contributing data to a large, shared data repository. While these two projects are in very different scientific domains, they share a number of characteristics including decentralized decision-making, limited data management expertise, and long-term collections of legacy data that have contributed to the difficulties the projects have faced in moving from small science to big science. One of the important issues raised is the tension between the desire for flexibility and innovation in scientific practice as weighed against the need for compatible data standards in large-scale scientific data infrastructures. This tension must be resolved if e-Science and e-Social Science projects are to succeed in the long term.