1.1 The field of Information Studies: towards a paradigm shift, foundations of a new Science of Information
In contrast with the population in the iron age, who had no chance to understand the concept of iron, we are able in the “information age” to ask ourselves about the very nature of information, setting forth new ways of understanding its content, its measure and its value, as studied and applied in many different scientific, technical and practical contexts. It is said that there are information phenomena in cells, words, antennas, skin, cables, thoughts, electrons, brains, robots, communities, databanks, institutions… Hence talking about information is essentially trans-disciplinary. Moreover, on the one hand, the concept has gained a central role in many disciplines scattering its meaning and establishing gaps among them (Capurro 2003, 2009, Marijuán 2009); and on the other hand, an information theoretical approach may bridge apparently irreconcilable disciplines providing tools for the appraisal of current scientific open tasks (Lyre 2002, Doucette 2008, Hofkirchner 2009). Moreover the scattering effect on information meanings has driven to the belief that information can be useful for everything, while often it is not enough to cope with our current problems (Brier 2008). Since information appeals to the very core of different sciences, a deeper understanding of information phenomena rendering scientific and societal fruits must be multidimensional. The network envisaged within this project aims at precisely this objective.
The problems regarding such deeper understanding of information are: Is there a unified cluster of concepts of information under all these uses of “information”? How can we simultaneously grant the diversity of information phenomena and the rigour of its theoretical apprehension in a unifying framework? By which means, if any, is informational content measured? Could a refined concept of information bridge among matter and energy (physics), life (biology), cognition and consciousness (psychology and neuroscience) and social systems (sociology)? How can we preserve all practical interest regarding information (from the governing of nature or the implementation of technology to the preservation of social rights, cultural life, human dignity…)?
The state of the art regarding information theories includes distinct ongoing paradigms, such as: complexity (Algorithmic Information Theory, info-computation); entropy vs order (physics, chemistry); situated (infon theory); intentional (cognitive science, decision theory); semantic (linguistics, communication theory); system (cybernetics); evolution (biology, social theory)… i.e. different disciplines presuppose distinct paradigms (Capurro 2003, Lyre 2002, Díaz & Salto 2009). Bridging the community of information studies would be a first step for interweaving different scientific frameworks to deepen into the very landscape of information, searching for interdisciplinary treatment of theoretical, technical and practical problems. A community of scientists, interested in searching a common information-theoretical stage, already exists, but a proper structured link among separated groups is necessary to reach the objective. Thus a virtual community, in which any research group can collaborate in challenging scientific, societal and technological questions concerning information ( by sharing resources and results, fostering discussion, scientific knowledge & innovation, disseminating results and promoting cooperative research) can be an optimal means for going in this direction which fruits in an information society can be of scientific, technical and social benefit.
Since the beginning of the 1990s serious efforts have been done in order to erect an interdisciplinary frame on information. Among them, it is worth mentioning actions coming from: “Foundations of Information Science” (FIS); “Unified Theory of Information” (UTI); “Institute for Logic, Language and Computation” (ILLC) of Amsterdam, and the “Science of Information Institute” (SoII) of Washington. But in the other hand, other groups (like the International Center for Information Ethics, ICIE) were created to veil for those interests concerning information that science and technology could be leaving apart, or may not be reached from an only scientific criteria. This segregation of scopes will be overcome in a virtual community since no particular point of view is imposed.
In 2008, an interdisciplinary research group on information, named BITrum (http://sites.google.com/site/ebitrum/), was founded in collaboration with many other international groups as those mentioned before and leaded by the proposer of this action. Creating the proposed virtual community may further a broad European network on information concerns, which might bridge results from different EU founded actions covering several issues within the realm of information concerns (eg. in the field of Information Technologies: COST-IC 276, 274, 292, 294, 298; COST-ICO 602, 603; in the field of Biomedical and Molecular Biosciences: COST-B 27, 30, -BM0605; EUROCORES-EuroSCOPE; RNP-FUNCDYN, -FFG; in the field of Individual, society, culture and health: COST-ISO 604, 807; EUROCORES-CNCC, EUROCORES - LogICCC; RNP-CompCog; FP6-ETHICBOTS project; FP7-ETICA).
The proposed action is linked to relevant international institutions and researchers in the field in order to achieve an optimal impact in the international community. A consortium among several of these institutions has been gathered to foster a programme within the European Research Area aiming at deploying such eInfrastructure. BITrum started in 2009 the development of the Glossarium BITri, a “Glossary of concepts, metaphors, theories and problems concerning information” aimed at providing a substratum for mutual understanding among different parts of the community (BITrum 2010).
As a further step in the vertebration of the community on information studies, the basis for a new science of information can be established be means of cooperation and mutual understanding within the virtual community. Foundations of Information Science, FIS (one of the first communities to be incorporated into the virtual community) maintains since the 1990s a scientific discussion among high qualified international scholars on such endeavour. Science of Information Science, SoII (also to be integrated within early stages of DomusBITae) proposes a vertebration programme of the many involved areas in information concerns as depicted in figure 1.
Figure 1: Vertebration of Scientific Dommains for Information Reseach within the frame of a new Science of Information (Doucette et al 2007)
The DomusBITae initiative has been initially promoted at the end of 2009 by BITrum Research Group, in collaboration with the Spanish National Institute of Communication Technologies (INTECO), the Science of Information Institute (SoII, USA), Foundations of Information Science (FIS), Unified Theory of Information Research Group (UIT, Austria), University of León (ULE, Spain), University of Barcelona (UB, Spain), University of the Aegean (UAE, Greece), Mälardalen University (MDU, Sweden). As it has been acknowledged, this initiative converges with several European objectives for research support and some of the considered challenges for the Spanish Presidency (RISEPTIS 2009, rec.1, 2; ESFRI 2010).
It aims at developing a virtual research community in information studies, fostering the constitution of a unifying new Science of Information as a frame where all the information studies do effectively collaborate in challenging scientific, societal and technological questions concerning information. It pursues horizontally bridging the whole community of information studies in order to share resources and results, improve communication, foster discussion, scientific knowledge & innovation, disseminate results and promoting cooperative research.
The proposed system –according to its preliminary design– should be constituted, as illustrated in figure 2 by the following modules:
1. a knowledge oriented web-system adaptable for any community of information studies;
2. a directory of communities to serve as bridge between communities;
3. An institutional and thematic repository in Information Studies;
4. A Toolkit for Working Groups, to facilitate collaborative research;
5. A shared glossary for conceptual clarification, theory disambiguation, and multi-facet approach to informational problems.
Figure 2: Structure of Domus BITae System
To achieve both a maximal effectiveness and impact, this design is planned to be carried out with a relevant representation of the Scientific community, looking for the consent of the community and the adaptation to their necessities. A Scientific Committee (representative of the Scientific Community) should bridge the technical development and the scientific usability.
The consortium has been convened to partake in the European 7th Frame Programme within the Infrastructures subprogramme (theme: Virtual Research Communities), although some other parallel lines within European Research Area have been envisaged as possible supporting lines: FP7 Intrastructures (theme: Repositories and Digital libraries); FP7 ICT-Chalenge 4 (digital libraries and content); FP7 ICT-FET open scheme, there is an open call; ICT PSP (theme: Digital libraries and open access).
This proposal asks for support in preparatory and deployment stages after an explanatory phase in which:
a) a critical consortium has been met;
b) a full proposal has been developed, following EU support programme criteria and including scientific-technical objectives, work plan and dissemination strategy, as well as a electronic system for a further and cooperative development of the initiative, named stylusBITae (https://sites.google.com/site/stylusbitae/);
c) viable European support programmes has been identified and confirmed the fulfilment of eligibility by project officers;
d) initial support is necessary to achieve the required impact, critical community support and to be maximally competitive in the European Research Area.
Since one of the key factors to achieve a competitive e-Infrastructure is the potential impact, which is also a natural means for developing an effective virtual community with scientific and societal relevance, main effort is aimed at achieving the maximal commitment of the target community, whose potentials are the main pillar of the initiative viability (see §6).
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