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Information at the Intersections of Discovery: Case Studies in Neuroscience

Carole L. Palmer, Melissa H. Cragin, Timothy P. Hogan,

Presented at ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), Providence, Rhode Island, November 13 - 18, 2004


Within the field of neuroscience there is a need for new information technologies to provide better access to the extensive body of knowledge related to brain research and better support for discovery processes. In scientific research, certain intersections of people, ideas, and techniques lead to advancements, and information plays an important role in this process. This paper reports on case studies in scientific discovery that investigate how information fuels progress at three multidisciplinary neuroscience laboratories. The results presented here profile the research environments and information practices of active neuroscientists, and a working information-seeking typology is introduced. New means of quantifying and visualizing data played a role in most of the breakthroughs reported by researchers, and interpreting experimental data in relation to previous findings is a standard problem. Participants ranked information for solving instrumentation and technique problems as having the highest importance rankings. Participants also found a literature mining technique for searching PubMed (Arrowsmith) of value in their daily work and used it in unexpected ways. The mobility of information, a topic of much interest in scientific informatics, was a central theme in the case studies, but "boundary work" and "newness" were also important information factors in the discovery process.

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