"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." As he did in so many other ways, Isaac Newton summarized the sequential nature of scientific inquiry in a phrase that is both elegant and concise. Newton was giving credit to the discoveries that preceded his own, and he expressed the incremental, interconnected paths of experiment-based discovery.
What facilitated this interconnectedness was the circulation of scientific information, which was directly catalyzed by the innovation of Gutenberg's printing press around 1450. The momentum built by one discovery inspiring the next remained critical in the centuries after Newton, evolving into a virtuous cycle that helped fuel the explosion of scientific achievements in the 20th century.
Innovation in the modern information era
The increase in knowledge dissemination introduced an unexpected challenge to scientific progress—information overload. The first academic journals, including Philosophical Transactions in England and Journal des sçavans in France, were introduced in 1665 to help scientists stay up-to-date and better understand the latest scientific discoveries in their field. However, as scientists continue to innovate and inspire new discoveries, the challenge to stay informed has grown exponentially. Within the last two years alone, humanity has generated 90% of all data ever created.
To continue to make important, novel contributions to science—to speed scientific discovery—it is essential that scientists understand and appreciate what has come before. For example, three researchers—Yves Chauvin, Robert H. Grubbs, and Richard R. Schrock—won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2005 for the "development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis." About their discovery, the Nobel Prize committee wrote:
Chauvin's theory set the scene for chemists to hunt for and design catalysts that carry out the exchange scheme effectively. After examining a number of different candidate metals Richard Schrock made the initial breakthrough by discovering that catalysts containing the transition metal elements molybdenum and tungsten performed the task. However, their tendency to react unfavourably meant that the reaction did not always fully go to plan. Robert Grubbs went one stage further by developing more effective catalysts centred around another transition metal, ruthenium, which reacted less with other molecules and was much more stable.
This story reveals the sequential nature of their work, culminating in a Nobel Prize-worthy accomplishment. Each new finding inspired another, all connecting through a complex lineage of references in the scientific literature. Looking at Grubbs' impressive list of nearly 1,200 journal articles to date, we see more than 49,000 references to these articles in later publications. In fact, a single journal article published by Grubbs in 1999 has been referenced nearly 2,800 times thereafter by other researchers in the field!
Human curation as the key to tomorrow's transformative technologies
With organizations generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, discoverability of specific, relevant information becomes all the more important. While information solutions like SciFindern help today's scientists find exactly the information they need, when they need it, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will soon become part of a more comprehensive strategy to manage the growing influx of data.
As these new AI technologies are developed, the importance of high-quality, human-curated scientific data shouldn't be overlooked, as it is the cornerstone to successful implementation of AI in bioscience, computing and everything in between. Starting with intellectually enriched data sources, AI can deliver insights across a wide range of information types, helping scientists uncover and understand what was once buried beneath a mountain of literature. By funneling "data lakes" into more manageable "reservoirs" of related or complementary information, AI built upon high-quality, human curated data will help scientists maximize the opportunity to build upon the knowledge and innovation of their predecessors, and to guarantee that their own discoveries are accessible for the next generation of innovators.
At CAS, we know just how important it is for scientists to have ready access to existing research to speed the discovery process. This understanding has guided our service to the scientific community for more than 110 years. While today's complex and ever-growing data environment presents unique challenges, our scientists will continue to read the literature to extract, organize, and connect the valuable details within—all to allow you to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Whose shoulders will you stand on for your next discovery? Learn how CAS can help.