Issues Related to Advances in Information Technology

Advances in electronic and other information technologies have raised new questions about the customs and practices that influence the storage, ownership, and exchange of electronic data and software. A number of special issues, not addressed by the panel, are associated with computer modeling, simulation, and other approaches that are becoming more prevalent in the research environment. Computer technology can enhance research collaboration; it can also create new impediments to data sharing resulting from increased costs, the need for specialized equipment, or liabilities or uncertainties about responsibilities for faulty data, software, or computer-generated models.

Advances in computer technology may assist in maintaining and preserving accurate records of research data. Such records could help resolve questions about the timing or accuracy of specific research findings, especially when a principal investigator is not available or is uncooperative in responding to such questions. In principle, properly managed information technologies, utilizing advances in nonerasable optical disk systems, might reinforce openness in scientific research and make primary data more transparent to collaborators and research managers. For example, the so-called WORM (write once, read many) systems provide a high-density digital storage medium that supplies an ineradicable audit trail and historical record for all entered information (Haas, 1991).

Advances in information technologies could thus provide an important benefit to research institutions that wish to emphasize greater access to and storage of primary research data. But the development of centralized information systems in the academic research environment raises difficult issues of ownership, control, and principle that reflect the decentralized character of university governance. Such systems are also a source of additional research expense, often borne by individual investigators. Moreover, if centralized systems are perceived by scientists as an inappropriate or ineffective form of management or oversight of individual research groups, they simply may not work in an academic environment.

Communication and Publication

Scientists communicate research results by a variety of formal and informal means. In earlier times, new findings and interpretations were communicated by letter, personal meeting, and publication. Today, computer networks and facsimile machines have sup-

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