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Themes at the All Hands Meeting

12 September 2007 No Comment

Some themes seem to emerge to me from the talks I have been to. One is that the many people are talking about the need to expand the reach of e-science tools out to the ‘general scientific community’.  As I noted in other posts part of this is a problem with language. Three terms that seem to be used regularly are ‘Portalization’, ‘Computational Steering’, and ‘Workflows’. Now I don’t understand really what these terms mean but that is to be expected. The real surprise is that there seems to be real confusion amongst the experts as to what they mean, or at least the details of what they apply to. Language is important both in terms of communicating within a community but also in communicating outside that community to the ‘general public’.

‘Workflows’ are a central part of the myExperiment project which aims to reach out to a wider scientific public. This is a concept that is potentially very useful to a wide range of scientists. We generate data and then want to do stuff to it. Many services are available to help with this but we schlep through websites and desktop application changing formats and mucking around. Being able to automate this and then share the tools that enable this automation is potentially very powerful. But the term ‘Workflow’ is a bit vague and probably a bit alien to most scientists.

Security is a big obessions. I don’t understand the technical details of this but it seems to be largely driven by scientists who don’t want their data getting out. This is disappointing but not suprising. The case for more openness still needs to keep being made. One thing that I find depressing is that people want to be able to blacklist specific users. That is they are happy to be open but want to prevent specific people from seeing their data. I think this suggests there is something problematic about the science community.

However security is important to prevent damage or vandalism through hacking, spam etc. It is also critical for demonstrating provenance which is absolutely required for open data to work effectively. So security is an important issue and one that needs to be handled in a way that I can feel safe in using without understanding what is going on.

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