A new paradigm of knowledge? How the Web transforms our comprehension of knowledge and the way of academic research

recorded by: Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC)
author: Daniela Pscheida, Martin-Luther University
recorded by: Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC)
recorded by: Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
published: March 24, 2012,   recorded: February 2012,   views: 9000


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Digitalization and virtual network technologies change not only the way we communicate, get informed and entertain ourselves - they also have modified the conditions under which this is done as well as the standards that are applied to these processes. In the era of flat rates and mobile devices the spatial-temporal limits of our physical world start to disappear (Weinberger 2007). Instead of stability, objectivity and institutional authority in the digital sphere timeliness, situational availability and the readiness for active participation do count. One can assume that in the course of this process the social understanding of and approach to knowledge have started to change. Since the mid-20th Century the Western societies migrated to so-called knowledge societies (e.g. Bittlingmayer 2005). Their specific properties (centralization, plurality of and dynamics in knowledge, but also a growing degree of fragility in epistemology) perfectly match to the media capabilities of the World Wide Web, because here the complexity of the postmodern knowledge environment can be mapped like in no other medium. At the same time, the mentioned transformations continue to increase by the structuring potential of the medium. Therefore one can pose the thesis that under the entangled impact of knowledge society and digital networks we face a knowledge-cultural change, which is comparable to the one occurred in early modern Europe because of the introduction of the printing press (e.g. Eisenstein 1983; Giesecke 1991), which led to the formation of academic science and the modern “order of knowledge” (Spinner 1994). The resulting principles and conventions concerning socially valid knowledge still shape our knowledge culture today - but are available for disposition now across the board. Within the social communication of knowledge the change is already observable for quite some time, where the classical hierarchy of one-way expert-layperson communication based on institutional authority is replaced by heterarchical structures of democratic exchange, debate and negotiation (e.g. Wikipedia). The “wisdom of the crowds” (Surowiecki 2005) draws its accuracy from the pooling of remote distributed knowledge resources - its attractiveness results from the free and immediate access to the jointly generated content (open source/open access). Furthermore the ‘softening’ of the traditional, academically oriented culture of knowledge in the area of knowledge communication can be noticed in the changing relationship between science and public, known as “mode 2” within the community of knowledge sociologists since the mid-1990s (Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny/ Scott/ Gibbons 2005; Weingart 2005). However, even within the science itself fundamental changes are taking place in parallel to the proliferation of Web 2.0, but largely unnoticed by the general public. Those correspond heavily with the already mentioned transformation of the knowledge society because they are about the collaborative usage of distributed resources as well as the open collaboration and timely, location-independent communication. Since the early 2000’s the creation of so-called virtual research environments (VRE) in science is being pursued, for example in Germany by the DFG. With the help of intelligent grouping of computing resources (Grid Computing) for instance supercomputers are generated, capable of unprecedented compute power. But above all, the bundling and provided access to huge, spatially distributed data sets enables an entirely new type of 'dataintensive science', which according to the book by Jim Gray et al. (2009) may also be designated as a “fourth paradigm”. Actually, a science based on grid technologies and virtual research environments opens entirely new paths as well as dimensions of knowledge production. Sooner or later, the changing procedures will also cause changes within the research structures and therefore as well in the scientific knowledge. In fact, many researchers of various disciplines use the collaborative possibilities of Web 2.0 for some time already. Yet, so far there is hardly any knowledge about the effects that this has on the research process and the culture of scientific knowledge production. This might be because this particular use of digital technologies in everyday research is still taking place very locally, and the availability of virtual research environments is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, the thriving interest in the field of e-science leads to assume that this will change rapidly over the next few years. An example is the “eScience – Network” - a project to bundle, profile and develop approaches and methods of e-science in the Saxon university area. The project aims to the funding of individual projects in the fields of e-systems, e-business and e-learning and interdisciplinary network of researchers on a dedicated research platform. In addition to the basic development of research infrastructure this project is also an empirical investigation of the ongoing collaborative research processes. What is to be found out: How does the cooperative and collaborative research activities change the identity and self-perception of the participating researchers as scientists?

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