IEEE eScience Workshop Stockholm

I have attended this week the annual eScience workshop, this time it was in Stockholm. The Program was shared with the Microsoft Research eScience workshop. There have also been several side-workshops. I attended one on computing advances in live sciences.

The idea was to get a current snapshot of the international landscape in eScience, which is really what SyBIT is also doing. There were a lot of reference to Jim Gray, who advocated the ’embedded’ model very early on. Many people referred to his slides,  which he has already shown at the ETH in 2006 when i invited him to give a talk. The ideas and problems he referred to are still the same, but not much has changed in the past 5 years. But at least now the whole community repeats his statements, i remember at the time people were much more skeptical. Still there are voices who say that all this support given to other sciences is not what computer scientists should do (since this is not computer science anymore). True, but i personally view computer science like mathematics – super useful if applicable, but most of the research done is only for the pure beauty of it and is restricted to the ivory tower. Luckily most want to do things that are applicable. But real examples of working with the researchers are still rare, everyone was quoting the SDSS work of Alex Szalay and Jim Gray, which i had the luck of being part of as well – but this was 1999-2001, then there was refinement until 2004 and some crowdsourcing (galaxy zoo). So really not much happened in the past 5 years in terms of collaborations. The UK eScience program was of course quite successful in the early 2000s and Tony Hey gave a nice talk on that.

It was however a bit disheartening that many of the presented papers in the research tracks of the conference were just about yet another workflow, yet another automation, yet another data mining effort. When asked why they did not use existing tools, the answer was always ‘interesting, i did not know about that’. Which means to me that at least the review process is broken..

Still i have collected a few pointers that can be useful in sustainability discussions when talking about SyBIT’s future beyond (in addition to Jim’s slides).

There were also interesting discussions about clouds, grids and e-Infrastructures in general. Basically what we try with SyBIT is very much in line what people are thinking to do, so we are already ahead of the crowd. But most everyone is hitting the same problem concerning sustained funding, like the EGI. There is money to develop and build something but there are no business models available to fund sustained support and operations of the developed tools. My personal conclusion is that it is a misguided effort to try to unify all domains (well maybe some, see the MIT Convergence text) on the e-Infrastructure level. It is much more efficient to let the scientific domains to sort out their problems individually. And then if they want to converge further, let them sort it out. Imposing it from the outside is not working. So we need a Life Science specific effort to support data intensive life science research.

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