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Moving Researchers across the EResearch Chasm

Malcolm Wolski and Joanna Richardson outline an Australian initiative to address technology challenges within current research paradigms.

In 1999 Sir John Taylor [1], then Director General of the UK Research Councils, talked about e-Science, i.e. global collaboration in key areas of science and the next generation of infrastructure that will support it. It encompasses computationally intensive science that is carried out in highly distributed network environments or that uses immense datasets that require grid computing. In the US the term cyberinfrastructure has been used to describe the new research environments that support advanced data acquisition, data storage, data management, data integration, data mining, data visualisation and other computing and information processing services over the Internet. In Australia—and other countries—the term eResearch extends e-Science and cyberinfrastructure to other disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences, and denotes the use of information technology to support existing and new forms of research.

It is within this rapidly evolving context that the researcher of the 21st century now operates. However not all researchers are responding to changes in this new environment. In this article we will examine the current research paradigm, the main drivers for researchers to engage with this paradigm, reasons for lack of engagement, and a project undertaken at an Australian university—as part of a national initiative—to start to address the problem of making data from research activity, past and current, more discoverable and accessible.

Gray [2] discusses the evolution of research paradigms which has led to the increasingly important role that information technology now plays in supporting research. For thousands of years there was experimental / empirical science followed in the last few hundred years by theoretical science. The third research paradigm, which evolved in the last few decades, was characterised by increasingly complex research challenges based principally on large-scale computational simulation. This led to the concept of holistic systems of systems; the evolution from wet labs (hands-on scientific research and experimentation) to virtual labs; and an emphasis on modelling, simulation, projection and prediction.

E-Science / cyberinfrastructure / eResearch are short-hand terms for a new fourth paradigm which is characterised by data-intensive science. The focus is on data analysis and mining; patterns discovery; and the evolution of large databases and data archives. One by-product is the so-called 'data deluge', which has led to enormous challenges in research data management. The fourth paradigm is changing the longstanding model of scholarly communication as, in the words of Clifford Lynch [2], 'the paper becomes a window for a scientist to not only actively understand a scientific result, but also reproduce it or extend it'. This latest paradigm is also characterised by the collaborative and multidisciplinary nature of the research being undertaken at both national and international levels.

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page | by Dr. Radut