Reinventing Science

Just as the Enlightenment ushered in a new organizational model of knowledge creation, the new Web is helping to transform the realm of science into an increasingly open and collaborative endeavor that will accelerate scientific discovery and learning.

The Internet is not just a low-cost medium for disseminating scientific information; it’s the new platform for science, period. Thousands of scientific pioneers now rely less on “the paper” as the prime vehicle for scientific communication and more on tools such as blogs, wikis, and Web-enabled databanks. Rather than wait a year or more to crank out a traditional publication they use Twitter and other social media to share day-to-day findings and observations with a global network of peers.

GalaxyZoo was launched as a volunteer project by astronomy graduate, Kevin Schawinski to help classify millions of galaxy images. Galaxy classification is a fairly simple task, but a task usually left for professional astronomers to complete. Provided with a ten-minute tutorial on how to classify galaxies by shape, the initial response was overwhelming: more than 70,000 images per hour were being classified by elementary school students, teachers and other astronomy enthusiasts.

Better and less expensive access to knowledge and scientific tools, in turn, is making the whole process of learning and economic change more efficient. Superior techniques are spreading faster. New technologies are being more widely deployed and improved. More minds are being trained in science, and more skills brought to bear on the time-urgent problems facing the world. If this plays out the way we predict, the new scientific paradigm has the potential to rapidly improve human health, turn the tide on environmental damage, develop breakthrough technologies, and even explore outer space.