Knowledge Infrastructures for the Anthropocene (work in progress)
The Anthropocene epoch calls upon humanity to account for — and to refashion — our role in the planetary metabolism. Knowledge infrastructures for the Anthropocene might not only monitor, model, and visualize the technosphere’s metabolism of energy, materials and information, but also account for that metabolism, including waste, in terms of Earth’s stocks and flows of finite resources.
Could logistics, one of the most successful applications of knowledge and information technology, serve as a model? Logistics began as accounting. Simply knowing what one takes in, what one spends, and how one’s assets move and change — whether assets are conceived as money, people, equipment, or fossil carbon — is one step toward closing loops between the technosphere and the biosphere, accounting for the one in terms of the other. Examples include emerging practices of “carbon accounting.” Currently, carbon metrics are flawed, gameable, and fragile. In the future, could routine and standardized carbon accounting, along with many similar practices, routinely provide knowledge relevant to reducing human damage to Earth systems?
Blending social “data exhaust” with physical and environmental information, an environmentally-focused logistics might trim away every excess gram of energy and materials in production, find new ways to re-use or recycle waste, and generate new ideas for eliminating toxic byproducts, greenhouse gas emissions, and other metabolites. This new research project, conceived as a series of essays on particular knowledge infrastructures such as carbon accounting and climate information, will address these pressing questions.
The Knowledge Infrastructures research group convened a workshop in May 2012, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation. Some 25 international scholars from many domains, including sociology, science and technology studies, computer science, human-computer interaction, and the digital humanities, participated in three days of intensive discussions and breakout groups. This project is organized around three central questions: How are knowledge infrastructures changing? How do changes in knowledge infrastructures reinforce or redistribute authority, influence, and power? And how can we best study, know, and imagine knowledge infrastructures moving forward?
Report of the workshop (May 2013): Edwards et al., "Knowledge Infrastructures: Intellectual Frameworks and Research Challenges"
NSF and Sloan Foundation funding, 2012. The Knowledge Infrastructures research group is Paul N. Edwards (University of Michigan), Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California Irvine), Christine L. Borgman (University of California Los Angeles), Steven J. Jackson (Cornell University), David Ribes (Georgetown University), Jillian Wallis (University of Michigan), Melissa Chalmers (University of Michigan), and Scout Calvert (University of California, Irvine).
Monitoring, Modeling and Memory: Dynamics of Data and Knowledge in Scientific Cyberinfrastructures
This project will enable virtual organizations in the Earth sciences to scale to massive interdisciplinary “communities of communities." A key element is commodity governance, which encodes social and technical aspects of governance in cyberinfrastructure (CI) to create virtual units that can operate, aggregate, and coordinate in a decentralized fashion. Investigators are conducting a sociotechnical study of three interlinked modeling projects in climate, weather, and surface dynamics, and formulating a conceptual framework that addresses the requirements, structures, and policies of virtual organizations in these and similar modeling domains as a basis for commodity governance implementation.
NSF Cyberinfrastructure Development and Innovation award, $825,000, 2010-2013. Principal investigator: Cecelia Deluca (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Co-PIs: Paul N. Edwards (University of Michigan), James Syvitski (University of Colorado). Postdoctoral fellow: Jillian Wallis (University of Michigan).
Scientists and science funders have long worked to improve the sharing, reuse, storage, and retrieval of scientific data. Today, efforts focus on advanced “cyberinfrastructure“: using networked computers, databases, and organizations to bridge divides among diverse scientific disciplines. Cyberinfrastructure divides into three main activities. First, large numbers of automatic sensors monitor subjects of interest, such as ecosystems and Earth’s climate, producing massive volumes of digitized data. Second, in many fields computer models have replaced laboratory experiments as the principal means of data collection, prediction, and decision-making. Third, increasingly vast data resources (scientific memory) are now available, but are often distributed across thousands of research sites and institutions, in numerous incompatible formats. For cyberinfrastructure-enabled science to deliver on its transformative potential, cyberinfrastructure designers need better ways of understanding how scientists actually create and share data in practice, and how they use it to create new knowledge.
To investigate data practices empirically, this project examines four large cyberinfrastructure efforts: the Long Term Ecological Research Network, the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, the WATer and Environmental Research Systems Network, and the Earth System Modeling Framework. In each case, the investigators will study how cyberinfrastructure is used in monitoring, modeling, and memory. These projects spread across many disciplines addressing three important domains, all related to climate change concerns: ecology and environment; hydrology and water management; and earth system science.
NSF Human and Social Dynamics Program award, $1.2 million, 2008-2012. Principal investigator: Paul N. Edwards. Co-PIs: Christine Borgman (UCLA); Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of Pittsburgh); Steven J. Jackson and Thomas Finholt (University of Michigan); David Ribes (Georgetown University).
Team Science: Sociotechnical Dimensions of Distributed Work
Increasingly, solutions to scientific and engineering problems require multidisciplinary distributed teams, but little is known about how such teams emerge and coalesce. This project is investigating the role of ecologies of teams with overlapping membership and interests.
NSF Virtual Organizations and Sociotechnical Systems award (EAGER), 2009-2012. Principal investigator: Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of Pittsbugh). Co-PI: Paul N. Edwards.