Arin6912 – Digital Research And Publishing Presentation


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An overview an discussion of Geoffrey Bowker's article "Databasing the World: Biodiversity and the 2000's"

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Arin6912 – Digital Research And Publishing Presentation

  1. 1. ARIN6912 – Digital Research and Publishing <br />Kate Fagan<br />Bowker, G. C., “Databasing the World: Biodiversity and the 2000’s. In Memory Practices in Science, Cambridge, Mass; MIT Press, pp. 107-136<br />In this week’s reading “Databasing the World: Biodiversity and the 2000’s” Geoffrey Bowker, a researcher for the Centre of Science, Technology and Society, closely examines information infrastructures and storytelling in science over the past two hundred years. Bowker is concerned with information infrastructure, which involves looking at shifting classification systems in medicine, distributed collaborative work practices in environmental science, data sharing practices and biodiversity informatics and ultimately the relationship between the past and the present.. The central analytic question is how scientists in the various sciences contributing to the subject of biodiversity communicate both with each other and with policymakers - and in particular how do the data structures and practices in use affect this communication. <br />Bowker argues that the most powerful technological advancement over the past 200 years has been the development of the database – from the rise of statistics and the role of archive commissioners in the 1830’s through to the present. This ability to organize, order and classify information about entities into lists using sub-categories and classifications is considered a contemporary key to both state and scientific power. The computer, considered one of the most significant developments of the late twentieth century, began as a way of collecting research and data for military based operations. The computer and subsequently the Internet were a product of the drive to database. <br />Memory and memory practices are described by Bowker as “materially rampant, invasive, and implicated in the core of our being and of our understanding of the world.” Our experience of memory purports an assumed reality void of materiality of the individual, the nation-state, the people and so forth. To successfully record our past and present a stable technology is required, infrastructure for gas, electricity and sewage, remain relatively unchanged and old technology is easily adapted and compatible with the new. At the current rate of technological change there is not a stable medium for database record. For example CD’s will not last and many software programs from the 1990’s are now outdated and hardware to read them is no longer used. The database medium needs to be maintained to keep data accessible and usable as it passes from one medium to the other. <br />OWNERSHIP OF SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL IDEAS<br />Bowker outlines three main sets of issues arising from the implementation of this knowledge/information market: control of knowledge; privacy; and patterns of ownership. Who has the right to speak in the name of science? As information becomes more readily accessible to the public questions of authority arise. Smaller disparities between knowledge hierarchies within society can be a powerful and librating social force but it is also important to train knowledge consumers to be critical. With large database networks and enabled avenues for access, academic and information property owners relinquish control of their work upon publication, widespread access has resulted in an increasing potential for data abuse. Other issues concerning ownership stem from the globalization and the increasing unity of the public domain. Who owns what knowledge? Information ownership and control is often considered virtual colonialism as Western ideals prevail. <br />SHARING DATA<br />There has been much theoretical analysis concerning information as power in the modern age. There is an undeniable imperial drive to archive information in order to exercise control. Captain Cook’s fleet compiled a team of biologists and professional experts of the time to compile as much information about Australia upon its discovery. In a new age of global unity humans as a species are having to consider the management of the earth as a whole. Data to be archived by scientists should be readily accessible and easy to reproduce and manipulate by future generations. With respect to bio-diversity the past is just as important as the present as life cycles of flora and fauna and a record of weather patterns together with current data are crucial to predicting out future. NASA is currently operating a mission titled Mission to Earth is trying to document “the physical, chemical and biological processes responsible for the evolution of earth on all time scales.” <br />Another important concern for scientific archiving of experiments is for the scientist conducting the experiment to ensure that it can be repeated. In a field where old results are consistently being reworked there is a need to preserve the original data. There are many complication layers of fact and knowledge in science and each step needs to be thoroughly recorded to monitor progress and assess the future. Bowker argues that there has not been enough attention and paid to the detailing of complicated layers of organizational, political and scientific data structures. There is little support from government funding or scientific enquiry into developing and maintaining stable databases. <br />INTERNATIONAL TECHNOSCIENCE<br />There has been much hope of that the development of knowledge structures will free information and accessibility will become more globally inclusive, narrowing the knowledge gaps between countries. Bowker makes an interesting comparison with Ancient Greek social politics – everyone who has access is an equal citizen and those without are left further and further field. However once access is achieved there are further additional considerations concerning Internet speed, access to software and knowledge of use.<br />Third World governments have indicated real doubts of the usefulness of sharing information with the Western World for fear of the relationship being a repeat of the ‘take-take attitude’ of the Western world much like the contradictory free trade agreements of the Imperial era, nominated by west with the most gain. Many developing countries view the information as the second wave of colonialism – the first the pillage of resources, the second the pillage of information. Bowker believes the only solution is careful attention to the development of information policies and an urgent need to develop such policies. <br />DISTRIBUTED COLLECTIVE PRACTICE<br />The complexity of the human mind is undeniable however there are obvious universal truths that can be said of the workings of the human brains. The importance of history and the connections between the past and the present contribute to our understanding of the present. The desire and strong need to record the past is a prevalent human mind-set. The history of memory recording practices and archiving is an example of this. The advent of the computer has given us a new understanding of the development of information keeping processes and each individual milestone in these technologies over hundreds of years seems to be a path on the way to the development of the computer. Human bodies and life itself is described using the metaphor of a computer, with DNA being the code. Derrida argues that with the development of computing technologies we are creating new kinds of traces that give rise to new kinds of past – a reordering and restructuring of history to create new meaning and understandings.<br />Bowker believes that a suitable, stable and thorough method of archiving information is just as important as the work itself. Scientific papers are the embodiment of the practice of research and experimentation and need to be carefully represented in our information economy to ensure their relevance. The overwhelming need for databasing systems far outweighs the capacity of existing virtual databasing infrastructures. Human understanding of our world is largely ingrained in our understanding of the past – what we choose to record and remember about the past is significant in understanding our actions in the present. <br />