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Scientific information- where are the visions?

Well, honestly, things are on the move these days. Scientists and publishers are discussing new ways of publishing scientific results. EMBO starts an initiative to set up a platform that will provide services relating to access and retrieval of digital information in the life sciences, ranging from bibliographic or factual data to published full text – E-BioSci. Even database publishers draw nearer academic institutions to promote their content products.

Last week scientists and information providers met at the 8th annual meeting of the German Information and Communication Initiative of the Learned Societies entitled “Open Systems for the Communication in Science and Research”. The conference wanted to discuss the latest national developments as well as strategies on how to improve the scientific information workflow.

The talks and presentations concentrated on three major points: the future of scientific publication, current developments in information infrastructures, and multimedia in academic education and training. Not more!? To my opinion every single topic would have been enough for an own conference. But the organizers aimed at giving an overview and … bringing people from different disciplines together.

I am sure you know the problem. For some reason communication between the academic disciplines often does not really exist but on the paper. Focussing on improving the supply of the scientific community with specialist information, we observe a variety of ‘island-solutions’. Young scientists are used to free internet information sources but are still completely unexperienced with using ‘valuable’ databases. How could they … there is no awareness of information with costs. The problem is well known. And now we are coming back to the lack of communication. Many scientific groups are developing strategies in parallel, to provide scientific labs with database information e.g.. Many solutions never really had a chance because they are redundant. Many resources are used in parallel without looking for synergies and if there could be a common way.

Let’s think capitalistic … or evolutionary: The best(?) system will survive! OK. This works on the international information markets where one can observe concentration movements towards Thomson, Elsevier and some other players. But do our academic structures really have the resources – as regards time and money – to waste it in a try-and-error development? Would it not be better to coordinate international – at least national – efforts? Should we not move on with a common focus and thereby free money for other things?

The first step in developing a common strategy is a vision, something that can be set as one’s goal. No ‘destination’ – no strategy. When you build a road you already know where you start from, but you also need to know where to go. Unfortunately my conclusion after this conference is that there are no true visions. Again we are developing strategies without a direction and wasting scientific resources and money.

What we really need is more communication. Not only communication between information providers and academic users. Also, communication between the disciplines, communication between the scientists. And this conference was not the solution but a very first step. The results have to prove their worth in real life.

Revised version of the article “Scientific information- where are the visions?”, originally published in March 2002 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.