By Joern Fischer
Data is more abundant than ever. Humanity’s insatiable wants have marked the onset of the Anthropocene, and countless data summarizing the state of the world are available in red lists, food (in-)security indicators and other summary statistics.
Information is also increasingly abundant, and humanity’s various excesses have been summarized aptly in documents like the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the series of IPCC reports, or reports on poverty and inequality.
So we have plenty of data and plenty of information. But can humanity leverage the era of big data and the information age to make the 21st century the century of insight?
And is the role of science to use data and generate information, and then hope for the rest of the world to be insightful? Presumably partly yes, but perhaps science doesn’t need to stop at generating information.
Assuming for a moment that just generating more information, on its own, won’t do to make this the century of insight, I wonder if the notion of insightful science might be useful. As opposed to science seeking to generate information, insightful science would seek to generate something that somehow goes deeper, and is more than just proliferation of information. Perhaps all science is more or less insightful, in which case the notion of insightful science may be of little use. But even then, assuming that some scientific endeavours are more insightful than others, this leads to a series of potentially interesting questions:
- What are distinctive features of insightful science?
- Can these features be fostered in research projects, in research institutions, or by funding agencies?
- How can insightful science be made visible, so that it’s not just “big data” that gets the attention, but “big insights”?
For now, I’ll just put those questions out there… if there’s something to the notion of insightful science, it may be worthwhile to explore these points in a future blog post.