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Nuclear Information Democratization
By
November/December 2013 Issue

Nuclear Information (NI) interests people for many reasons, with energy supply, safety, and security being at the top of the list. Democratizing nuclear information has its roots in the growth of a knowledge-based economy, the knowledge worker as a user of nuclear information, developments in information and communication technologies (ICT), and the impact of internet growth. Results of democratization are apparent in the process of information creation, in how nuclear information is distributed and accessed, and in the conditions for using the information found. The International Nuclear Information System (INIS) both reflects and contributes to these trends.

Nuclear information falls under the overall umbrella of scientific and technical information (STI). It is highly specialized, but it follows general principles and trends of STI. The world of STI has its own culture and its own long-established rules of use and existence. These have brought us many inventions and improvements, introduced important technological changes, and made our lives and work much easier and more pleasurable. However, the world is constantly changing, and the traditional closed STI environment, including the world of nuclear information, is not keeping up with ?today’s changes.

DEMOCRATIZATION

The democratization of many activities, both social and professional, has not made a significant impact on the world of STI and NI. This is particularly evident in the traditional ways and forms of creating, distributing, accessing, and using information. Both STI and NI are still operating with an old paradigm. However, free and uninhibited access to nuclear information and to the results of scientific research and technological advancements are necessary for the world to overcome its current challenges and problems.

Accenture’s 2010 report on reforming the information paradigm (“Future Information Management Trends: Information 2015—Reforming the Paradigm”; accenture.com/?us-en/Pages/insight-information-2015-re?forming-paradigm-summary.aspx) emphasizes openness as one of the main drivers of future information. Accenture also sees a need to balance openness and security, master radical transparency, and support open innovation and collaborative value creation. These are the major indicators of information democratization.

As is the case with other social and economic changes, the overall factors that can be regarded as instrumental in creating a need for the democratization of nuclear information are, first, a knowledge-based economy and the knowledge worker as a user of nuclear information, and, second, developments in the area of ICT, particularly the impact of internet growth.

Knowledge workers with new and very dynamic demands for nuclear information, coupled with emerging ICT possibilities, created strong demand for the democratization of nuclear information. There are at least three major areas where the democratization of nuclear information is taking place—the process of information creation, the ways and means for distributing and accessing these valuable resources, and the conditions for using the information found.

NUCLEAR INFORMATION CREATION

The creation of nuclear information is the starting point in the process of democratization. Overcommercialization of information can negatively impact the safety and security of running various nuclear facilities and projects. Knowledge can now easily be codified and reduced to information transmitted around the world at relatively low cost. As a commodity, diffusion of knowledge is directly impacted, either positively through accelerated information exchange or negatively through limiting the access via high prices.

It is not only overcommercialization. Nuclear science has also barricaded itself behind walls of official titles, such as professor, assistant, researcher, or official academic degrees. At the same time, valuable scientific and technical research and development is being performed by engineers, technicians, students, amateurs, and enthusiasts. Results of their work and research are often disregarded as not scientific enough and are omitted from the mainstream of scientific nuclear information. In addition, the use of social networking and collaboration tools is not regarded as sufficiently appropriate for scientific environments. The value of social networks for scientists lies in faster access to the information relevant to their research and in the enhanced networking communities made available by new tools, according to bioscience consulting group Comprendia (comprendia.com/2012/03/12/what-is-a-scientific-social-network-6-examples).

Democratized nuclear science creation needs to open its doors to everyone who devotes time and energy to these activities. The same applies for publishing the results of such findings. Unless coming from a prestigious university, publishing attempts are more or less disregarded by leading scientific and technical journals. Open access journals, such as those listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (doaj.org), are slowly gaining ground, but they have a long way to go. The peer-review system established to control the quality of published articles in journals is too rigid for the new opportunities offered by today’s web-based comments, blogs, and social network-based evaluations.

DISTRIBUTION AND ACCESS

Nuclear information distribution and access also contains high potential for democratization. It requires freedom of access to information and worldwide knowledge, particularly for educational purposes, and reliable and unbiased sources of information. Greater use of open access journals for publishing purposes, instead of commercial journals, can also make a major impact on the democratization of distribution and access.

The increased use of web publishing will be a major catalyst for this change. The number of new publishers starting up as open access publishers is increasing. The Public Library of Science (PLOS; plos.org) is a well-known example. Similar trends are found in the opening of commercial science databases to the general public through free distribution channels or through the use of aggregators such as World Wide Science (worldwidescience.org), regarded by many as a global science gateway. Some commercial publishers, such as Springer, Elsevier, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc., offer open access options.


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Dobrica Savic is head of the Nuclear Information Section (NIS) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 

Comments? Contact the editors at editors@onlinesearcher.net

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