The Microsoft eScience Workshop being held in Chicago this week came to an end yesterday with the awards dinner. Tony Hey, Vice President of Microsoft Research Connections, before he introduced the Jim Gray Award winner, took the opportunity to present a video that reflected with past award winners on the achievements and impact of eScience. In presenting his vision for the future he remarked that the true measure of success would be when "eScience will soon just become known as science".
He then introduced the winner of the 2012 Jim Gray Award (an award given to an individual for the advancement of science through the use of computing) Antony Williams from the Royal Society of Chemistry for his work on the ChemSpider website - a database of chemical compounds and related data.
In accepting the award, Williams reflected on his career and the changes that had taken place in the way he undertook research and the impact that computing technology had had on the research process. The proliferation and availability of electronic data was perhaps one of the most fundamental changes. In the early phases of his career he reflected that he probably only published 5% of the data that he collected as mechanisms only existed for publishing the results as part of a peer reviewed publication. The growth of the web and increased openness of research now made it acceptable, and even required, for publicly funded research to be made publicly available.
This philosophy of openness and transparency while engaging with peers in the community is core to the ChemSpider website. In reflecting on its growth from a small website based on three servers over the last 5 years to a website with over 28m records aggregated from 400 data sources, he highlighted the benefits of crowd sourcing to provide contributions and corrections and to keep the content current. ChemSpider provides mechanisms for the community to annotate and correct the presented information where corrections are deemed necessary. Such crowd sourcing approaches, similar to the mechanisms used by Wikipedia, have allowed the quality of the information to improve to the point where it is frequently used and integrated into other resources through various web service interfaces and integrated with tools from Microsoft and Google.
In reflecting on the impact of eScience in his field Williams saw great opportunity for greater integration in the future. Initiatives such as ORCID and OpenPHACTS respectively provide a way for a researcher to have a unique machine readable identifier associated with their published work (papers and data) and to reduce the barriers to accessing pharmaceutical information through an open platform.