UCL Laboratory of Animal Physiology
SAS helps rapid, transparent dissemination of scientific information
Samuel Dupont, a researcher at the UCL Animal Physiology Laboratory in Louvain-la- Neuve, had already spent quite a while looking for a solution. His problem was to find an instrument that would make greater use of the opportunities offered by modern information technology to disseminate scientific information - i.e. the Internet. He thought that the traditional methods of disseminating scientific information, such as presentations at scientific congresses and publications in scientific journals, were too slow, too limited and too open to fraudulent use. Together with SAS Partner Outwares, he used SAS software to develop a rapid, transparent method of diffusing scientific information, then tested it by publishing his own research on bioluminescence in brittle-stars.
We were able to demonstrate that the Internet and SAS constitute a better system for the rapid, transparent, and flexible dissemination of scientific information.
Science, no longer the ultimate guardian of the truth?
Science has long been seen as the ultimate guardian of the truth and the most trustworthy means of discovering the universal laws of Nature. A hypothesis can be formulated from an observation of facts. Confirmation of this hypothesis by experiments allows a law to be formulated, upon which a theory can be based.
However, in the 20th century Karl Popper advocated "falsifiability" as the criterion of demarcation for science. He said that all we know is but "a woven web of guesses" and that, while empirical generalizations may not be verifiable, they are, at least, falsifiable. In other words, there is no ultimate statement in Science; every theory could be replaced with another, just as Ptolemy's vision of the Sun revolving around the Earth (believed for many centuries to be the truth) could be replaced by the Copernican theory of the Earth revolving around the Sun.
The need for free and rapid dissemination of scientific information
According to Samuel Dupont, a researcher at the UCL Animal Physiology Laboratory in Louvain-la- Neuve, several problems in science call for the rapid, free dissemination of information to make every scientific theory easily verifiable. First of all, the two main ways of disseminating scientific theories now (publication of scientific papers in science journals and presentations at scientific symposia, conferences and congresses) are slow, while much information is often lost. Secondly, cultural differences, politics, personal motivations, etc. can prevent the need for total objectivity from being fulfilled. For example, sometimes the criteria for publication of an article are highly disputable. Thirdly, fraud is much more widespread in science than is generally thought. The lack of sufficient personal ethics, a low risk of exposure, career opportunities, the need for recognition by peers, and personal motivators combine to tempt researchers into perpetrating scientific fraud.
The Internet emerges as a new means of achieving free, transparent, flexible and rapid dissemination of scientific information. It is cheap to use by publishers and readers alike, it is flexible (allowing the use of animations, colors, movies, hyperlinks, etc.), and enables a large scientific community to be reached rapidly.
Demonstrating the advantages of Internet for the dissemination of scientific information
Samuel Dupont's research concentrates on Amphipholis squamata, a small, polychromatic, hermaphroditic ophiuroid (or brittlestar) having five long slender arms radiating from a central disk. Found in seas and oceans worldwide (except in polar regions), adult individuals have a disk some 3.5 mm in diameter and arms around 15 mm in length. The species is luminescent (to fool predators) and large inter- and intrapopulational variations of luminous capabilities have been observed. This variability is associated with positive and/or negative consequences on fitness, and therefore luminescence in A. squamata appears to be a suitable model for studying microevolution. Samuel Dupont has worked on several populations in Europe, especially studying those in the Oliveri-Tindari lagoons in Sicily.
In August 2000, Samuel Dupont published a Web page on bioluminescence as an indicator of genetic variability in A. squamata. The address of the site was published on 3 mailing lists, there were links to Websites on Ophiuroidea, the site was presented at a bioluminescence symposium and it was referenced. "We discovered that we could reach a large scientific community very rapidly," said Samuel Dupont. "438 people visited the site in just one month. We received 52 e-mails on the subject, showing that direct feedback from the scientific community via the Internet is a powerful means of making research progress. We were able to demonstrate that the Internet and SAS constitute a better system for scientific information dissemination."
Disseminating large quantities of data via the Web with SAS
To develop the SAS applications he needed, Samuel Dupont called on Outwares, a SAS Partner specializing in helping organizations to find the best way of making their information available to large groups of people via the Internet or intranets. "We have long found SAS to be a very reliable, welldocumented and elegant tool in our traditional statistical work, and particularly attractive when dealing with all types of applied research. The modules are so well integrated that they make it possible to do the whole job with one single tool. Despite its wealth of facilities, SAS is often easier to use than people might think," said Samuel Dupont.
He also believes that SAS software is ideal for publishing large quantities of scientific information via the Internet: "We found that SAS adds interactivity to its classical strengths: on the Web, it allows direct access to the database and to complex statistics in a very dynamic way. People can zoom in on certain areas and perform a drill-down to verify our findings and claims, and they can easily drill down to the basic figures and check our methodology."
"The ease of use of SAS is often underestimated. Starting from existing data, we need only a couple of minutes to publish information on the Web," added Bernard Pirali, a Partner in Outwares. "Users can edit reports easily, and exporting to Excel or text format is fast. The application we developed with the UCL Animal Physiology Laboratory can easily be adapted to other research fields in other university faculties. We are now seeing significant interest in interfaces like this, which allow the publication of large quantities of data very rapidly."
OUTWARES is a consultancy company specializing in
- Data warehouse implementation
- Data warehouse exploitation
- Business Information Delivery
- Internet/Intranet Information Delivery
- Application development in SAS
"The ease of use of SAS is often underestimated. Starting from existing data, we need only a couple of minutes to publish information on the Web,"
Bernard Pirali, Outwares.