Accepted Paper:

'Gone fishing!': big data technologies and changing scientific practices  


Christina Holmes (St. Francis Xavier University)

Paper short abstract:

Technologies for data acquisition, such as mass-spectrometry, challenge scientific cultural practices for the creation of knowledge about proteins. Are these scientists on 'fishing expeditions'? Or just fishing in a new way?

Paper long abstract:

Science has its own particular cultural practices for the creation of acceptable knowledge, yet increasingly from the days of natural history, technology of one type or another is crucial to the mediation of those cultural practices. Using the example of proteomic science and recent mass-spectrometer technology use in Canada and Australia, this paper explores how changing technologies for data acquisition for scientists challenge what is considered to be acceptable scientific practice as this technology travels around the globe. The use of mass-spectrometry technology in proteomics is an example of a big data technology in science. The proponents of this new technology, with its ability to categorize thousands of proteins, are often criticized as going on 'fishing expeditions' or creating 'data cemeteries' that have limited use for scientific inquiry because they are not sufficiently targeted. In response, proponents suggest that the technologies offer new ways of interacting with data. Scientists, they argue, are always going fishing for knowledge, mass-spectrometry simply offers the potential for trolling, instead of hook and line fishing.

Panel WIM-GF05
Technology, movement, and the cultural production of meaning