Influence of WWW on molecular genetics

G. Dellaire dellaire at odyssee.net
Sun Sep 28 10:17:18 EST 1997


Dear Christopher,

If you read the opening sentence of any bionet news group charter you will
get a similar statement ....

 "purpose of the _THIS_BIONET_ newsgroup is to provide a proper forum for
the discussion of issues pertaining and involving _THIS_SUBJECT_, in its
many forms (see _Topics of Discussion_).  Primarily it should enable those
researchers who work in _THIS_FIELD_ or aligned fields to communicate ideas
and information, as well as, provide a chance for collaboration among
national and international research groups."

These are the higher goals of networked molecular biology.  To help
disseminate information more rapidly and create an international spirit of
cooperation and good will.  The reality is somewhere in between.  Data is
there but it is often superficial.  The expertise is there on-line, but is
silent. The community require involvement but too many would rather
scavenge and build.

Most researchers have at least e-mail.  The e-mail use in the United States
is very high and most people there can be contacted by e-mail and/or have
web pages.  In the Common Wealth countries and in Europe the internet is
almost as prevalent but telecom costs and needed upgrades to existing
infrastructure have slowed the spread of networked science.  Great leaders
in networked science have come traditionally from physics... example CERN's
network and the birth of the World Wide Web.  EMBL and NIH have both
contributed greatly to providing affordable or completely free access to
important data bases on the internet.  Researchers at Xerox gave us e-mail
and what would become Windows.  The NCSA gave us Mosaic and lead to the
birth of Netscape and the University of Wisconsin gave us GCG and the
University of Illinois gave us gopher which was consequently modified to
its present form by McGill reasearchers in Canada.  I would have to say
then that science and its attempts to organize information, as well as,
communicate and share data have driven the development of the internet
until the early nineties.  Unfortunately, a large driving force in todays'
network is business and commercialization.  Bandwidth is dwindling and
resources are thinning.=20

E-mail is wonderful as is the Usenet (news groups) but too many
non-scientists, driven by greed are using the net as yet another money
making scheme and our mailboxes are constantly filling with junk mail or
spam.  Moderating news groups and never posting your personal e-mail
address to a news group is one way of dealing with spam.  Even with these
problems most of us who have received communication from editors or from
collaborators via e-mail have appreciated its mix of speed and
unintrusiveness. As well, e-mail provides an intimacy usually associated
with the written letter which is lacking in other forms of rapid
communication such as the fax. =20

The Web has added a new dimension to scientific discourse and has openned
up an exciting new mode of publication of scientific data.  Almost all the
major scientific journals have on-line versions of their publications.
Science, Nature and PNAS in particular have great sites which balance
design with content and provide abstracts and extra appended material for
their articles (ex. movies, maps etc.). Cell's site at this time is
frustrating as I believe you can't even read the abstracts now without a
subscription!  BioMednet and the Current Biology journals have an amazing
web site that befits one of the "Original" on line journal sites.  I think
the trend to on-line journals is a good one although we would all like to .

Search engines try to help us make sense of it all but for every "science"
site there are a few thousand non science sites (with the majority selling
something from sex to green cards) which clutter our screens.  An easy way
to handle this would be to have people with science sites include a meta
tag in their page which would be recognized as a "science page" and you
could have science only search engines which would index only pages with
this meta tag.=20

On the positive side, the Web has also empowered many graduate students and
faculty.  The Web provided a forum to express there creativity and
enthusiasm for science through the creation of wonderful home pages with
respect to their research fields.  For instance "All the Virology on the
Web" by   David Sander or more recently the chromatin structure and
function sites of Dimitri Pruss, Jim Bone and myself are all examples of
students or faculty taking the time to make their corner of cyberspace a
little brighter.  My only complaint is that too many researchers (and
internet users in general) are info voyeurs with voracious appetites for
data but who contribute little themselves in way of discussion or content
on the internet.  I would venture to say that probably 70% of the users of
bionet only read the posts and ask questions but never reply or try to help
anyone. As for content, many people lament about not being able to find
information on the their subject but would never think about providing some
of that same information themselves for the benefit of others. Partly this
problem stems from lack of a system for recognizing and citing on line work.

So without simply crying about poor integration of databases* or the lack
of "good" information in one's subject area I would urge researchers to
contribute themselves.  If it doesn't exist, create it.  If you can't find
it, make it.  If you can help someone, please do.  Because the sooner we
realize that the internet is a community like any other, requiring
constructive and active participation to thrive, the sooner we may realize
the original goal of networked science after all.



Note: *(EMBL and NCSA are working on Corba compliant java based solutions
to get computers to share data seamlessly, so help is on the way!)=20


Graham Dellaire

Moderator of RECOM and GENSTRUCTURE



At 11:13 PM 09 27 97 -0400, Christopher Huggins wrote:
/Anyone,
>/
>/	I would like to request feedback on the issue of molecular genetics and
>/the WWW.  Assuming that most who review these pages are professors and
>/are involved in molecular genetics, I am interested in opinions on the
>/its influence, be it good or bad.  Besides the obvious dissemination of
>/information at higher rates, what do people feel are some of the
>/benefits?  Is there too much information floating out there?  Is it of
>/poorer qualtiy?  Does this matter?  What are its limitations and what
>/does the future hold?  From my limited browsing it seems to me that
>/amount of information is overwhelming.  How does one "sift" through the
>/good and the bad?  Would more centralized organizations and sites such
>/as the NCBI and Human Genome Project be more helpful?
>/
>
>
>
>=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>| Graham Dellaire=20
>|=20
>| Division of Experimental Medicine=20
>| Dept of Medicine, McGill University
>|(http://www.medcor.mcgill.ca/EXPMED/expmed.html)=20
>|=20
>| e-mail: dellaire at odyssee.net=20
>| Fax: (514) 896 4689=20
>| Vox: (514) 281 6000 ext. 6936
>|=20
>| Bionet: bionet.molbio.recombination
>| bionet.genome.gene-structure=20
>=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>| Snail Mail:=20
>| Institut du Cancer de Montreal=20
>| Centre de Recherch L.C. Simard=20
>| 1560 Sherbrooke St. East=20
>| Montreal, Quebec, CANADA=20
>| H2L 4M1=20
>=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
>=A0=20
>
>
>
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
| Graham Dellaire=20
|=20
| Division of Experimental Medicine=20
| Dept of Medicine, McGill University
|(http://www.medcor.mcgill.ca/EXPMED/expmed.html)=20
|=20
| e-mail: dellaire at odyssee.net=20
| Fax: (514) 896 4689=20
| Vox: (514) 281 6000 ext. 6936
|=20
| Bionet: bionet.molbio.recombination
| bionet.genome.gene-structure=20
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
| Snail Mail:=20
| Institut du Cancer de Montreal=20
| Centre de Recherch L.C. Simard=20
| 1560 Sherbrooke St. East=20
| Montreal, Quebec, CANADA=20
| H2L 4M1=20
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D
=A0=20





More information about the Genstruc mailing list