A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Cyberspace and science: legitimate questions.....

Science and scientists - not to mention knowledge sensu lato - are facing a challenge as great as, if not greater than, that of the book and of the imprimatur. How are science and knowledge to be 'legitimised' within the 'post-modern-modern' world of cyberspace?

Already, 'information' and 'ideas', in all their virtual forms and flourishes, have broken free from the library and from the journal, from the masonic lodge of the learned society, and from Coleridge's clerisy, from the pantheon of the 'ordained' and of the 'elect'. They can no longer be peer-monitored (at one and the same time a most valuable and a most dangerous process), or sifted, or blocked, or controlled. From bomb-making to boulean logic, from wicca to warp drives, it is out there somewhere. Lyotard saw science as becoming 'legitimised' by the 'social bond', but that bond has already been broken and is being replaced by the anarchy and the freedom of cyberspace, cyberchitchat and cyberchaos.

Now, at last, if but tentatively, these issues are being recognised, debated and addressed - 'Scientists seek "map of science"' (BBC Science/Nature Online News, March 7):

"Scientists need new ways to monitor the progress of science in the digital age, according to reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

"Researchers maintain that the very nature of knowledge is different in the digital age because information held on computers can be cross-referenced and linked."

"That opens new possibilities and presents new problems of extracting meaningful and relevant information from largely unorganised data collections."

But the questions are deeper than this? Who now legitimises and controls cyberknowledge? In the New Cyber Age, what is, and where resides, a societal sense of 'truth', however transient?

In terms of Michel Foucault, we are 'playing' in an entirely new space, in which, to quote Jean Baudrillard (1983), "the real does not disappear to the benefit of the imaginary, it disappears to the benefit of the more real than the real: the hyperreal." Now the simulacrum rules.

Philip, needing a very real gin and tonic, a little shaken, not stirred!

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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