Friday, February 01, 2008

Science in the 21st Century

News! I am organizing a conference (again), and the budget has just been approved. I am really exited about it, since it will cover many of the issues I have been writing about during the last years and that have been on my mind for quite a while:

    Science in the 21st Century
    Science, Society, and Information Technology

I find it - for a change without an irony - really great Perimeter Institute supports this very interdisciplinary topic. The questions that I hope to get a chance to discuss at the meeting you have encountered frequently if you follow this blog: How do the IT developments influence the way we do our research? How do these changes influence the interactions and knowledge growth in our society as a whole? How do they influence our opinion making processes, the way we rate information, and our political systems? Does this change the way science is perceived in the public, the feedback our community receives, and the way we deal with this feedback? How do these trends affect our community, diversity and specialization, the structure of our social and information networks? These topic reside somewhere at the intersection of IT, sociology, politics, the sociology of science, psychology, and of course the scientific community itself. I regard these questions highly relevant to understand how we can use our time and human resources optimally, and to address potential difficulties before they grow to become 'trouble'.

Here is the blurb that I came up with:

Times are changing. In the earlier days, we used to go to the library, today we search and archive our papers online. We have collaborations per email, hold telephone seminars, organize virtual networks, write blogs, and make our seminars available on the internet. Without any doubt, these technological developments influence the way science is done, and they also redefine our relation to the society we live in. Information exchange and management, the scientific community, and the society as a whole can be thought of as a triangle of relationships, the mutual interactions in which are becoming increasingly important.

Which refers to a graphic I had in an earlier post, the Information Triangle that I found a handy way to visualize these interrelations. You find some more information at the conference websites

(that however so far has about no content). Any feedback is highly welcome.

Related: You might want to check out Michael Nielsen's blog, he is a co-organizer of the conference and has a lot of really interesting posts about a large variety of topics (see sidebar).



  1. Hi Bee,

    This conference sounds like a timely and worthwhile endeavor. I suppose you are aware that Microsoft announced today a huge takeover bid for Yahoo. It seems they are getting more then a little nervous about Google. I actually was prompted to write a little comment on the related MSN site (something I’ve never done) expressing some of my non bottom line concerns that I have sited on your blog over the last little while. Perhaps you could contact Page or Brin (Googleians)to see if one or both of them would show up to express their perspective on your topic.



  2. Einstein and Schrödinger never fully accepted the highly abstract nature of Heisenberg's quantum mechanics, says Miller. They agreed with Galileo's assertion that "the book of nature is written in mathematics", but they also realized the power of using visual imagery to represent mathematical symbols.Arthur Miller

    Hi Bee,

    of course I reference back to previous discussions and thought what the heck, include other triangular images that immediately popped into mind.

    One of these has to to with Sir Roger Penrose's Extended Physical WorldView.

    So the idea then is to define the symbolic attempt at Iconic image retention?

    Once upon a time the illustrations in physics and astronomy papers were mostly line diagrams, plus the occasional black and white photograph, but advances in imaging technology and computer power mean that some results now resemble works of art.

    You get the sense then of the job it might entail, while deriving the theme, that current status of scientific endeavour would include a reductionistic feature of the way thought should become a construct of science and society?

  3. So on the one hand one might think about technologies in the 21st Century and wonder if computer technology can ever reach the status of Consciousness with which the "synaptic event" could include images, all the while it would include all the history to that point?

    While it is never clear to me, the basis of such a journey lies within the context of human potentials at creativity. Platforms through understanding and questioning, that reveal a conclusive iconic image, which could also include vast amounts of information through transfer(synoptic event or computer.)

    The leap of paradigmatic change would have to be inserted here.

    Why I like Plato "pointing up?":)

  4. The stupid hate you, the religious fear you, and the corrupt need your budget for social advocacy. Science is improved means to deteriorated ends. Mankind's purpose is to squat in mud and offer pain. Anybody who criticizes is thereby proven unqualified to comment:

    Iesus Christus dicendo "Poenitentiam agite adpropinquavit enim regnum caelorum" omnem vitam fidelium penitentiam esse voluit.

    Support evolution - shoot back.

  5. yay!

    -info. triangle- there may be something in it, but are there not many similar possible diagrams like that one?
    diagram can have meaning only in a larger context, meaning it can represent dialectic process: IT here could be unifying force, society-separating, science-integrating.

    -what is IT?
    there is a saying 'medium is the message'. point here is that medium(IT) is not computer, computer screen or even software, but something much less tangible.

    god luck,

  6. Hi A,

    Yeah, I admittedly didn't spend an eternity thinking about the diagram, so it's not a particularly great visualization. Roughly speaking one can read the third (green) IT-corner of the triangle as adding an additional dimension to the (red/blue) Science - Society relation. If I had to place myself in that diagram, it would be somewhere in the middle. Most of my older colleagues I would place less green/more blue. Many of the readers here I would place more green/more red. Etc. My concern is that the blue corner becomes increasingly less populated and the 'center of mass' in the scientific community drifts towards the red/green area. Best,


  7. This age, more than ever, is a good time to solve the prevalent problems of the world that is disconnected from our virtual networks. I speak of the scores of people, the 3+ billion people who don't have a computer in their vicinity. How do you approach their problems and solve them? How do you understand the world they live in, the economics of it, and so on?

    Also, is it all very well to dissociate oneself from the world by using virtual and computer generated models of the world the whole time and communicate with other such savants while an interaction with the physical world is necessary to bring about a conversion of scientific ideas into realistic implementations?

    Unless we solve persistent problems of the human condition in various parts of the world, most of our progress in advanced scientific realms have limited use. They will surely find use and inspire fascination and continue the scientific quest of humans, but at a point, the problems we choose to neglect may just become bigger than we can handle.

  8. Hi Tech,

    Thanks for your comment. I very much agree with you. Interestingly it seems you have figured out the reason for my interest in the matter, even though it is not directly a topic of the conference. I will probably have one or the other posts in this direction some time soon. Best,



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