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Journal Article

Science friction: Data, metadata, and collaboration

Paul N. Edwards, Matthew S. Mayernik, Archer L. Batcheller, Geoffrey C. Bowker and Christine L. Borgman
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 41, No. 5 (October 2011), pp. 667-690
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/41301955
Page Count: 24
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Science friction: Data, metadata, and collaboration
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Abstract

When scientists from two or more disciplines work together on related problems, they often face what we call ' science friction'. As science becomes more data-driven, collaborative, and interdisciplinary, demand increases for interoperability among data, tools, and services. Metadata -usually viewed simply as ' data about data', describing objects such as books, journal articles, or datasets -serve key roles in interoperability. Yet we find that metadata may be a source of friction between scientific collaborators, impeding data sharing. We propose an alternative view of metadata, focusing on its role in an ephemeral process of scientific communication, rather than as an enduring outcome or product. We report examples of highly useful, yet ad hoc, incomplete, loosely structured, and mutable, descriptions of data found in our ethnographic studies of several large projects in the environmental sciences. Based on this evidence, we argue that while metadata products can be powerful resources, usually they must be supplemented with metadata processes. Metadata-as-process suggests the very large role of the ad hoc, the incomplete, and the unfinished in everyday scientific work.