OII - SDP - 2004 - Blog

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

e-Science .. the background [Jeffreys, Woolgar, & Schroeder]

The first presentation for the day was presented by three speakers on e-Science and e-Social Science. They were the Oxford University's Paul Jeffreys, Steve Woolgar, and Ralph Schroeder.

The basis of the presentation surrounded the technical and social aspects of the Enterprise Grid Alliance, Grid Computing, and e-Science. Paul commenced by explaining the underpinnings of e-Sceince, while Ralph discussed applications of grid technologies in social science, followed lastly by Steve's social shaping aspects of new technologies.

Paul Jeffreys

Paul commenced by saying:

eScience will change the way science is done
... before explaining that the Enterprise Grid Alliance was made up by industry conglomerates such as SUN, Oracle, and HP, in addition to Microsoft, IBM, and BA providing Web Services.  Also, a teragrid formed in the  USA provides 20 terabytes of space over 9 sites connected to the grid.  But whats all the fuss? As Paul explains, the grid enables collaboration work at dozens of sites worldwide, with a strong sense of shared presence, via a combination of commodity, audio/video technology for security, discovery, etc.  Thus the grid is:

Middleware, software, and hardware, to share, access, process, communicate, and store huge quantities of data in a secure manner.

Ralph Schroeder

Despite the possibilities of the grid, Ralph finds it interesting to look at the blend of science and social science.  For example, in looking at the differences of the two, conference proceedings are the highest form of academic publishing for science, yet they are worth ‘practically nothing’ in social science (as apposed to academic journal publication).  Moreover, in a recent research project in collaboration, Ralph finds two very prestigious scientists at two institutions did not want to engage in an informal meeting space they way graduate student would.  That is, they did not want to participate in a ‘lessor’ way with the fear of perhaps lessening their academic prestige; they almost needed to be trained to use the facility.

As a proponent of VR, it was not surprising that the rest of Ralph's contribution was about that: virtual environments.  As such, Ralph put forward that virtual environments were good social science research tools that could log the behaviour of human encounters, and explained examples in the work of Blascovich and Garau.  In fact, Ralph says VR aids in studying the condition in which people interact in a new way, via a mixture of different methods.  For example, looking at these virtual encounters and seeing whether the same conditions apply in real encounters; or alternately, taking data from the real world and applying it or visualizing them inside VR.  Hence a 'shading of the two areas'.

So what is special about e-Social Science and its connection with e-Science? Ralph says:

  • The role of technology (instruments) in the advance of (social) science
  • Distributed collaboration and co-visualisation
  • Communication networks in and between the sciences
Finally, Ralph spoke about nanoManipulator Collaboratory (testing via co-located and then non co-located task completion, before ending that social science can be incorporated in the testing/research of science problems.

Steve Woolgar

As the final speaker, Steve commences by outlining with work going on at Science and Technology Studies at Oxford, in that they are:
Investigating the social, historical, and philosophical dimensions of scientific knowledge and technological development.

He discussed what the grid means for social science, social science for the grid, and also social science with the grid.  And in playing on Nimrod's five rules of virtuality (presented on Monday 19th July), Steve presented the same for the grid:
  • The uptake of new techs depend on the social context (what are the specific local conditions of joining or not joining à depends on local circumstance)
  • Fears and risks assoc with new techs are unevenly socially distributed
  • New techs supplement rather than substitute for old tech
  • The more virtual the more real
  • The more global the more local


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