The virtual assembly line for cooperative knowledge production
with an international division of labour

by Walther Umstätter

For the First Colnet Meeting it would be appropriate to draw the attention to the four most important points in modern international scientific cooperation:

  1. the virtual scientific assembly line,
  2. the intellectual property participation in complex theoretical models,
  3. the necessity of a semiotic thesaurus, and
  4. the dynamic concept of the assembly line for the organization of knowledge.

1. What means the term virtual assembly line in the context of cooperative international knowledge production. It means to construct a scientific theoretical model in team work by all the international experts of different areas that are concerned, to solve important special formulated problems, which are of interest for all participants. In total it means to build up a new digital library. This library is not only an archive for published papers. It is a growing organized internal theoretical model of our real surrounding world, called World 3 by Sir Karl Popper.

2. In the intellectual property participation it is at first necessary to have a look back to the corresponding mechanisms in cooperative science since the appearance of the invisible colleges, mentioned by Derek J. de Solla Price. One of the main points in this development was to get the priority for new ideas, observations, or experiments. At that time, in the middle of the seventeen's century, scientists of different countries started to publish short papers in journals to get the priority. They did not only write monographs, in which a topic was treated comprehensive, they augmented or completed more and more the already existing knowledge by smaller papers, stored in the libraries.

Three hundred years later, in the middle of the last century, we could observe the transition from the so called little science to the big science, also described by Price. This transition happened with a high coincidence to the big bang of the Manhattan project. Thousands of cooperating scientists and other workers created together a scientific product, that was never seen before, the atom bomb. Since this time we find more and more interdisciplinary papers published by two, three, four, and sometimes hundreds of authors. Price proposed, under the reference to R. E. Weston, in the sixties, to create scientific teams like the "Harvard M. I. T. Yankees", to bring groups like "Bourbaki" into fashion.
Now we have to investigate the unavoidable trend in the scientific cooperation, on the basis of the Internet. A world wide real time cooperation is possible, and a scientific revolution becomes obligatory. Copyrights can be dedicated to single sentences or facts in a hyper- and multimedia scenario, performed by thousands of authors. But that can only be done by a virtual assembly line in which a complex model, an expert system, or a theory is constructed in cooperation of a great number of specialists.

3. Because cooperation, and especially international scientific cooperation, has to surmount a well known obstacle, the language barrier. But the different use and meaning of a word is not only a question of translation from one language to another, it is also a problem of different definitions in interdisciplinary projects.

If one person is writing a paper, he or she has an idea of all his or her used terms. Sometimes they are very fuzzy, and some times they are even wrong, but normally they have a firm place in the concept of the published paper. In the scientific cooperation of different authors, it is often very hard to get a similar harmonisation of all used terms.

For the acquisition and storage of knowledge we have decent software, and a lot of experience in documentation, but what we urgently need at now is a homogeneous scientific language - a semiotic thesaurus, in which the semantic aspect, on the side of the sender or the author, and the pragmatic aspect, on the side of the receiver or the reader, is equal. This is necessary for understanding.

4. Today, thousands of papers in libraries containing different opinions or statements. Even in one book with articles from different authors, we can find definitions which are in sharp conflict with one another. That's typical for modern science, with falsification. But it is not permitted in a real scientific work, to contradict other theories without enough knowledge about their intellectual fundament. More and more scientists are not able to have enough knowledge to construct a homogeneous complex theory. We don't know what has happened in the whole world of science in the last time, because more than thousand published papers per hour appears. Following the Bradford's law of scattering, potentially all of them can be of importance for us - but at the same time only very few are real interesting for us. All participating experts have to observe the developments, and to integrate their knowledge to the formulated problem that should be solved.

It should be discussed, how we can organize the knowledge production under the helpful condition of a virtual assembly line.

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