eScience can help change the world

Speaking at a NordForsk seminar on eScience at Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, professor Cherri Pancake of Oregon State University, made it clear that she does not regard eScience as a field in itself: “It is dangerous when people get seduced by technology. The point is not the technology itself, but what it makes possible."

"eScience is just a way of approaching science,” said Cherri Pancake, who was on a panel together with Sverker Holmgren of NordForsk, Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Lars Börjesson of the Swedish Research Council, and Jerzy Langer of the European Research Advisory Board.

A third pillar?

The Nordic eScience initiative aims to provide a framework for Nordic, European and global collaboration and to stimulate cross-national and cross-disciplinary research efforts.  Science journalist Quentin Cooper from the BBC moderated the panel discussion, also involving the audience. He asked them whether or not eScience represents a third mode of performing research, complementing experiments and theory. The answers varied, but a majority in the audience seemed to go for “yes”.

Sverker Holmgren is programme director for the NordForsk eScience Globalisation Initiative. He is a strong believer in new ways of using eScience, and he stressed the importance of opening up for new ways of gathering and analyzing data: “I want to encourage open access to data, to software, and to educational resources,” said Holmgren, who thought eScience will be particularly useful within the areas of climate change and health. He listed a number of challenges; most of which are ethical and judicial, few being technical.

Don't stop thinking!

“Remote access to data and e-infrastructure are essential,” said Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph, underlining her firm belief that “the sciences as we know them will continue to be the real thing. We must not stop thinking. eScience will not change the world, but it might help change the world. What we really need is an agreed open access policy.”

Lars Börjesson talked about how eScience will affect the public at large, and how it can help involve the public in research projects: “You can for instance equip people with sensors. You can involve the public in making measurements, and in many other ways. But the basic scientific methods are still the same,” he said.'


Social and economic challenges

Cherri Pancake talked about three main goals of eScience and e-infrastructure, and discussed various challenges. According to her, the main goals are to share models and tools, to share core research data, and to make it safe to share data across disciplines.

“The main challenges are not technical, but social and economic. We need to face these challenges, not just go along. A lot of this is happening whether we want it or not, so we should make sure it happens safely,” she said.

The discussions continued around the tables and at a reception at the NordForsk ESOF stand, after the panel discussion was over.

(Text:  Dag Inge Danielsen    Photo:  Terje Heiestad)