BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS


Olson, Gary M., Zimmerman, Anna, and Bos, Nathan (Eds.). Scientific collaboration on the Internet. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. xii, 406 p. ISBN 978-0-262-15120-7. 33.95


A big project on the Science of Collaboratories at the University of Michigan mainly involved a number of workshops focussing on different issues of scientific collaboratories of various types. This book is the result of the project and includes twenty articles written by the experts and researchers on this innovative way of scientific communication and work.

The book is divided into seven parts (excluding the Introduction and Conclusion). The Introduction and the first two chapters seek to define the main concepts related to the explored phenomenon and summarize the theoretical knowledge related to the collaboratories.

The authors of the first chapter, Hey and Trefethen, explain the context, in which the collaboratories originated, including e-science, cyberinfrastructure, scholarly communication and open access to publications and data. In the second chapter, Nentwich explores the changes of scientific work that were brought about by computer networking technologies and new requirements to researchers. These contextual chapters lead a reader into the understanding of the background to the new forms of doing research and sharing scientific information.

One of the most enlightening chapters is, most probably, the chapter on taxonomy of collaboratories. Bos and his co-authors have created a basis for the development of the further understanding of the collaboratories as a phenomenon. Most probably, the typology will be changing with time, but it is the very first step in recognizing a variety of forms and goals of their existence. This chapter is also useful for further understanding of the contents of this volume. The chapter provides quite comprehensive characteristics of the following types of collaboratories: shared instruments, community data systems, open community contribution systems, virtual communities of practice, virtual learning communities, distributed research centres, and community infrastructure projects. Each type is defined by technology and organizational issues involved. The examples of the types are described in detail.

The authors of the fourth chapter consider the issue of the theory of remote scientific collaboration (TORSC). However, I found it hard to perceive it as anything theoretical. The chapter is well written and very interesting, but to my understanding it mainly focuses on the success factors that could ensure productive work of different collaboratories. However, some of the models and ideas presented in this part may evolve into theoretical explanations of the collaboratories. The same may be said about the fifth chapter, which presents the empirical data about the multidisciplinary collaboration programme among different organizations. The authors explore the coordination mechanisms, obstacles to collaborative work, participation, mediation and use of information and communication technologies drawing implications for theory, practice and policy. Those who have participated in multi-organizational multi-disciplinary projects will recognize the picture.

The three following chapters of the book provide insight into concrete collaborative projects and collaboratories, like National Virtual Observatory, Biomedical Informatics Research Network or NEESgrid. Though the chapters are divided into several parts, all of them belong to natural science domain: physical sciences, biological and health sciences, earth and environmental sciences. These were the domains where the collaboratories originated and became a significant part of the research scene. However, I was somewhat disappointed that the situation in social sciences and humanities was not reflected in any significant way. The final two chapters look into the collaboratories related to the needs of the developing countries: one analyses the HIV Pathogenesis Program and another looks into the consequences of collaboratories to the scientists in the developing parts of the world.

In the concluding chapter the authors consider the question of the existence of the science of collaboratories. I have treated this discussion as an attempt to conceptualize the results of the existing studies of a new phenomenon. I was somewhat surprised that describing the bigger and smaller influences on the SOC from a variety of disciplines, the authors have completely left out of the picture the discipline of scientific communication. I would see it as a basic discipline most completely covering all the elements and issues of collaboratories and including all other influences described in the chapter.

We all are drawn into wider and deeper collaboration through convenient medium of computer networks where we can find not only data and information, but use elaborate tools, find enormous resources of computing power and storage space, meet our peers and students. Therefore, the substantial volume covering a wide range of problems of a very interesting development in modern science would draw the attention of may research communities, not only the ones studying collaboratories.

Professor Elena Maceviciute
Vilnius University
12 February, 2010