arms to the
scientific and computer science community.
[cOntinUeD FrOM P. 112]
it’s also a great testament to what can
happen when scientists and computer
So SciScope enables you to combine
the two data sets.
You can add your own data and do
new research. It’s an example of what
I call “scientific mashups,” and it is, I
think, increasingly how much research
will be done in some fields. It’s a little
like Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Semantic Web, but in a scientific context.
Astronomy is another field that has
benefited from computer science.
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey
changed everything, because it generated a high-resolution survey of 25% of
the night sky. So, instead of an astronomer getting time on a telescope to look
at a particular star system, going back
to the university, analyzing the data,
and publishing the results with one or
two grad students, you’ve now got data
on more than 300 million celestial objects available to study. In this case, the
data is published before any detailed
analysis has been done.
Gray was instrumental in building on-
line databases to house the Sloan Digi-
tal Sky Survey data.
Jim and Alex Szalay also thought
they could apply the same sort of infrastructure to a sensor network, so we
built a sensor network in the grounds
of Johns Hopkins University to investigate soil science. The exciting thing
“We are now seeing
of a fourth paradigm
is that a similar sensor network is now
being deployed in Latin America, in the
Atlantic rainforest near São Paulo.
what have these projects taught you
about fostering meaningful collabora-
tion between the scientific and com-
puter science communities?
I’ve come to the conclusion that
you cannot force scientists to adopt a
technology no matter how useful you
think it would be for them! You have to
get as close to their way of working as
possible and give them an immediate
win. You can’t say, “Go climb this cliff,
and at the top there’s a reward.” So
you need to form a partnership where
there’s an early win for the scientist
and a win for you in that they’re using
at least some of your great research
technology, suitably packaged to be usable by scientists.
what sort of reception has The Fourth
It’s been very complimentary, which
is gratifying, and there’s been a huge
explosion on Twitter and in the blogo-sphere. We’re working on ideas for a
follow-up, and I’m working with the
National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure on a data task force. It would be
premature to say we know exactly what
people need, since that’s what the scientific community has to tell us. We
haven’t got there yet, and that’s one of
the reasons why it’s a very exciting time
in science and computer science.
Leah hoffmann is a brooklyn, ny-based technology