Rethinking the DBMS

2009/03/06

Identifiers for science should be part of a broader system

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Ben Samuel @ 00:47

There’s an interesting Linked group about identifiers for researchers talking about the issue of unique identifiers for research.
I understand the desire to restrict the problem to a reasonable domain, but some of the suggestions I’ve read seem unrealistic, such as “it’s critical that one researcher only gets one [digital scientist identifier].” (source) That seems like it depends too much on too many people doing the right thing when there’s no reason they should really care to do the right thing.
This really lets the cat out of the bag when it comes to identifying researchers because the whole scientific process expands, but I think most scientists agree that it ought to. A large problem in science is that there’s no serious mechanism for scientists to address falsehoods in the popular media. And while the scientific community may form a consensus on a particular issue, it’s difficult to express this. For example, to express a consensus on evolution a group of scientists launched Project Steve, but that only worked because the consensus was overwhelming.
The larger process begins to make sense if instead of following the publishing model we look at a more general model of interaction made of up smaller actions. Rather than articles as the unit of publishing, you might break it down as far as observations, assertions, arguments, criticisms, etc. Consider a hypothetical chain of events:

  • A researcher generates statistical data on cancerous growths.
  • The author summarizes the work for a paper.
  • The paper is published in a journal.
  • An advocacy group cites the paper in a press release.
  • The press release is picked up by a journalist.
  • A legislator reads the press release.

Now, imagine if a concerned citizen hears about the new law and wants to investigate. There is virtually no way to go back and find the original research and determine if the law in question actually reflects the original science in any way.
To a large extent, the value of research is what people write about it and the actions they take because of that.
After coming back to finish writing this post, I found a very interesting interview on a technology called crossref that does pretty much what I’m asking for. I guess great minds think alike…

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