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Production This report is about how information technology has changed the conduct of scientific, engineering, and clinical research. Information technology is that set of computer and telecommunica- tions technologies that makes possible computation, communication, and the storage and retrieval of information. The term, therefore, includes · Computer hardware of all kinds, from microprocessors dedicated to specific research tasks to the largest supercomputers; · Communications networks that link researchers to each other and to resources of various kinds; and · Computer software that researchers use to design and run scientific projects, and to manage the information that the projects yield. The effect of information technology on the conduct of research has long been a concern of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUPI, a joint unit of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineer- ing, and the Institute of Medicine. A previous COSEPUP report, Frontiers in Science and Technology: A Selected Outlook (W. H. Freeman, 1983), discussed ways of improving scientific and technical communication and asked, "How can scientists and engineers be encouraged to use the new electronic modalities innovatively and effectively?" The science policy community has occasionally discussed how computer and communication technologies affect research, although mostly as a corollary to other policy issues such as the need for support for advanced computing, the computing requirements of individual research disciplines, national security concerns about information dissemination, or the potential of developments in information technology research. For example, in September 1985, the House of Representatives' Committee on Science and Technology held hearings on "The 7
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8 INFORMATION Impact of the Information Age on Science" as part of its study of U.S. science TECHNOLOGY AND policy (U.S. Congress, 1986a,b). THE CONDUCT COSEPUP members felt that the subject deserved a thorough examination. In OF RESEARCH July 1985, a COSEPUP planning group recommended a study, and in December, 1986, after approval and selection of a panel, the study formally began. The study has received financial support from the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Bureau of Stan dards and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Depart ment of Commerce, the National Library of Medicine, and the National Science Foundation. COSEPUP's charge to the Panel on Information Technology and the Conduct of Research was to ~ Examine current and prospective applications of information technology computers and communications-to improve productivity in selected fields of scientific and engineering research, including the biological, physical, social, and . . . englneermg sciences; · Identify impediments to the effective use of these technologies in research- such impediments may be institutional, financial, behavioral, and technical; · Examine the behavioral and cultural changes required to exploit the new opportunities offered by these information technologies; and · Suggest appropriate actions by federal agencies, as well as by universities and other research institutions, manufacturers, vendors, scientific associations, and individual researchers. In considering its charge, the Panel decided that the goal of the study would be to recommend how to stimulate research through the use of information technology, and the focus of the study would be on both current and prospective uses. Because little research on general scientific uses of information technology now exists, the Panel gathered additional information from several disciplines representing the range of scientific and engineering research. Experts were provided with a list of questions, and commissioned to prepare papers on the use of information technology in their fields. They were asked to represent their colleagues' views as well as their own. The Panel believes that these papers reflect the diversity in information technology uses within and across the scientific disciplines. The papers provided essential inputs to the Panel's discussions and eventual recommendations. They are listed in Appendix A, and are available from COSEPUP on request. The report is written from the point of view, not of those who specialize in information technology, but of those who use it. For all researchers, information technology is beneficial; for some, it has become central. Some researchers want only better access to current technologies; others urgently want much more. The Panel does not presume to prescribe a single model for all researchers, but it does believe that the products of the information age are invaluable and should be available to researchers who need them. Therefore, in what follows, the Panel
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9 does not appraise developments in computing hardware or software but empha- sizes instead how these developments affect the productivity of researchers. The report is directed to two principal audiences. One audience includes the policymakers and leaders of those institutions responsible for the support and management of research. For this audience, the Panel describes issues and impediments, and recommends ways of helping the research community en- hance its use of information technology. The second audience is the users themselves, that is, research scientists and engineers. The Panel hopes that researchers will find their concerns about information technology addressed clearly and in their own terms. In addition, the Panel hopes that practices in other disciplines may spark readers' ideas for their own research. The Panel discovered early that there is almost no systematic information on the users and uses of information technology. For example, the Panel cannot estimate how many or what proportion of scientists use computers in different fields, how access to networks and computer facilities is distributed across disciplines, or to what extent useful applications are disseminated throughout the research community. Systematic collection of such information is essential to the development of intelligent policy. Researchers' experiences in using inforrna- tion technology can help guide decisions about policy and resource allocation. In turn, these decisions will shape the technological and institutional advances that break down impediments to the further use of information technology. This process will continue to change the nature of scientific, engineering, and clinical research itself. Finally, the Panel has come to a view of new ways of managing scientific knowledge and conducting scientific research. In this view, scientists are more productive because they are using the power of computers both to augment their intellectual efforts and to improve communication. With artificial barriers to communication lowered, science itself is closer to the open, collaborative search that is its goal. The next section of the report describes present trends, future potential, and impediments to the use of information technology in support of research, drawing on examples from a number of fields. The report's final section summarizes the Panel's findings and recommendations. INTRODUCTION
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