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New Challenges for Knowledge

Digital Dynamics to Access and Sharing

Renaud Fabre

In collaboration with

Quentin Messerschmidt-Mariet
Margot Holvoet



Nowadays, as in previous times, knowledge is born of out of curiosity, doubt and trial-and-error. However, the process of knowledge management has itself changed profoundly. Due to the Internet, the progress of artificial intelligence, information and communication sciences, information is now more widely shared. Hardly do we start to understand what is happening in this very small community of 2.5 million science publishers, when their results then become both more accessible and better shared by all.

Global sharing, which is a new frontier for knowledge, emerges onto decompartmentalizations never before seen. These involve new ways of doing and seeing things, new logics for “in-depth learning”, which are the crosscutting annual theme of Yann Le Cun’s course. The latter is this year being held at the Collège de France1, taking the theme What is the future position for “intelligent machines”…?

We may observe that “modern knowledge management issues” are nowadays still partially hidden. However, we can already detect that individual and collective scientific projects are faced with the huge challenges of conception, structure and use. The responses in reaction to these challenges, condition our understanding of the world. Are we actually moving toward a position of greater sharing of knowledge? What are the current conditions for such sharing? How is it developing? What is its dynamic?

Regarding these highly evolutionary issues, we have no other ambition than to enable you to share both the fulfillment and interest that we have achieved together as co-authors. As advanced students and lecturers at SciencesPo2, we have “produced meaning” together, owing to the rich and well-known approach of a “Conference” which has taken place over a period of several months. This is very much due to the collective work, which we have compiled from this organic sharing of experiences and knowledge.

Our exploration finds its meaning in a trial of global intelligence of developments taking place. Hence, the deliberate choice of three large spheres to define the “current knowledge-based issues”; production issues, sharing issues and issues regarding the increase in value of knowledge.

In becoming “digital”, knowledge production has completely changed over the space of a few years. Everyone has an idea of what this change means for their own use of knowledge. We wished to take a step back when thinking about the conditions for digital knowledge production and review all elements of the so-called production “chain”. This involves consideration of what has changed: new stages, new players and new rules. These are therefore as much an opportunity to embark upon a “systemic” analysis of these new value chains. This first stage is obviously necessary for the understanding of the subsequent stage, since it clearly describes “for a given condition of the technology” the various actor organizational models. It is indeed from these constraints and their particular interpretation, that the stakes for both sharing and increased value may be created.

The stakes for knowledge-sharing are vast, complex and dynamic. Their common point is knowledge accessibility. A mirage or a reality? Knowledge-sharing is instantaneous and may take place at a highly reduced variable cost and on a very large scale. In the digital era, it is possible to share the conditions for knowledge production, through vast international scientific real-time collaborations, hosted by given platforms. We may also share results, provided that the issues of the sharing economy models and the fair division of value are resolved. Of particular interest is the issue of editorial models, the very old encyclopedic scientific issue, which has been posed, at least since Diderot and his Lettre sur le commerce des livres3. It is also from there that we may attribute to it the rules and data-sharing arrangements and the multiple profit analyses, indeed also those which we obtain, and even conceal. In addition, there are of course the global and European development of the rules upon this sharing, in the era of “digital laws”, and the basis of the new “knowledge economy”, which also shapes the modern geopolitics of scientific production.

It is only from there that we can approach the issue of increased value which depends upon the upstream element, and solutions found so as to both produce and share knowledge. Increased value increases our awareness in several directions, in favor of all players. There is increased value of knowledge to the advantage of all users and all beneficiaries of science, through new approaches to open science. This occurs through the organization of controlled innovation capture, in aid of both the economy and industry, through both the broadening and combination of scientific results to meet the needs of society, education, health and social life. These questions make sense in view of the experimentation with new rules, and the law around open science, which is currently in the process of development.

We are obviously aware of the limits of this exercise, which only involved the under-mentioned authors. However, we thought that an overview of these often dispersed issues might make sense. Our justification for producing this collective work is our desire that you might also be persuaded by our arguments.


Gautier AMIEL






Renaud FABRE















Guillaume THIBAULT

Florence VAIRA


Figure I.1. Heuristic map for evidence-based policies

Production: Global Knowledge and Science in the Digital Era

Current Knowledge Dynamics

In his work L’imaginaire d’Internet (2001)1, Patrice Flichy creates the utopian concept of the so-called Republic of Computer Scientists, which is one of the founding myths of the Internet: an organized scientific community which is based upon the wider possibilities for distance knowledge-sharing. This community is structured around four main principles based upon the same ideal of a new scientific community:

  1. – the exchange of ideas and cooperation, first and foremost, which take place between specialists;
  2. – this community is one of equality where everyone is judged by his peers and not within a hierarchical relationship, which excludes authoritative argument;
  3. – cooperation is a central theme;
  4. – it is a world apart, which is separated from the rest of society.

In her statement on 24 January 20132, Geneviève Fioraso, then French Minister for Higher Education and Research, stated a second facet of the current dynamics based around sharing and she then declared, “Scientific information is a common resource which should be available for all”, thus affirming its will to unlock the circulation of research produced for the benefit of all citizens.

Thus, scientific production is currently in total turmoil. With new information and communication technologies (NICTs), data are able to be shared by the largest number of individuals, without any time storage limit (at least on the face of it). The scientific environment is fundamentally changing with respect to data availability.

In short, knowledge is subject to more general digital developments. It benefits not only from new tools, but is also subject to the same risks.

New knowledge dynamics are structured around three major issues:

  1. – enabling the deepening of individual disciplines and broadening perspectives by creating a synergy of researchers, with national and international projects (and making transdisciplinarity possible);
  2. – providing scientific evidence and also popularizing sciences, which are increasingly now open to “laymen” and other casual observers;
  3. – the research environment is based upon the sharing of scientific data (which allows the comparison and reuse of results). The environment is also based around competition (not only between states, but also at a practical level). In this context, it is incumbent upon national authorities to develop the competitiveness of the research sector.

1.1. Transparency of scientific data

New digital tools make it possible for a larger number of people to access scientific information. Knowledge changes dynamics from two angles. It may be produced by a larger number of individuals, who get involved in its elaboration through the widespread use of digital tools (participative science). However, the knowledge produced becomes more accessible, with scientific data being considered public property, and therefore subject to new knowledge-sharing tools and pooling.

1.1.1. Transparency of access

Access to research has for a long time remained both the reality and the privilege of academically recognized scientists. Yet, the Berlin Declaration of 12 July 20043 upon Open Access has tended to change this order, by assimilating scientific research into “a universal source of human knowledge and cultural heritage having gained the approval of the scientific Community”.

Open Access therefore seems to be the logical continuation of this new principal. It consists of making digital content available, either free from copyright, or subject to the intellectual property law regime. The Internet has made the emergence of such a perception of science possible, through its collaborative concept. The Declaration promotes “an Internet which is a functional tool in the service of global knowledge and human thought base”.

The idea is largely to spread science to the entire population, in a democratic manner, and to favor the largest possible sharing of scientific vocations. Knowledge (its production and the consequent access to it) currently exists within a dynamic of democracy in respect of data access.

For example, this ambition occurs by the creation of open archive digital information platforms, responding to very different needs and ideals. Web of Science4, which is a subscription-based private information service around online university publication for the university community, has unveiled a system of online sharing, while maintaining a traditional subscription system intended for an informed audience.

Other platforms display the willingness to provide free services. There is, for example, the Public Library of Science5, an American project with a non-lucrative purpose of providing English-speaking scientific publication with open access, operating upon the basis of free licensing, thereby abandoning the concept of paid access. Finally, these projects often draw support from public authorities as is the case with PERSEE6 in France, which is a free scientific web portal for French human and social sciences reviews, created by the Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale, de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (the Ministry for National Education, Higher Education and Research – MENESR).

1.2. Transparency of experimental protocol

1.2.1. For scientists…

The experiments previously cited all have the common factor of relying upon Internet technologies to offer research interfaces between the various university environments, by sharing results and publications. However, this notion of interface takes on real meaning in the second widespread transparency movement within scientific domains. This is the transparency of the experimental protocol, which enriches scientific contributions from different disciplines, as well as citizens for whom their involvement is no longer conditioned simply by academic acknowledgment.

We then speak of open science, the aim of which is to produce and share hypotheses, methods and protocols, which are subject to discussion within a given wider scientific community. The results are freely available on the Internet.

Science therefore relies upon expert collaboration in the domain concerned, but also upon less directly linked disciplines. This type of scientific work allows for greater transdisciplinarity, which turns out to be particularly invaluable in diagnosing new pathologies in, for example, the medical sphere. It also offers greater increased value in research results by increasing the scope of such results considerably.

1.2.2. And as for citizens

The idea of participatory science is not strictly confined to scientists, but tends to extend toward citizens who wish to contribute. The concept of so-called “Citizen Science” goes back to Alan Irwin in 1995 (with the publication Citizen Science)7. The idea is that we accumulate knowledge with the help of a large number of individual experiences, especially as far as the environment is concerned. These new data provide a substantial contribution to scientific research by increasing the scope of the experimental territory.

Moreover, in 2013, the European Union produced a report on environmental citizen sciences8. This report stated four levels of scientific analysis. These were observation (or so-called “distributed science”), interpretation of data, project design and finally “extreme citizen science”, or data collection accompanied by theoretical contributions.

There are thus two major movements that may be observed within this new participatory science: data collection (for example astronomical observations and plant collection) and co-creation (discoveries of new celestial bodies or even PolyMath9, a website for the demonstration of Mathematical theorems). Michael Nilsen speaks in favor of this latter movement of “networked research”10, since it not only mobilizes data collection, but also participation in the development of theorems. We may add in this perspective the role played by so-called Fab Labs, or “manufacturing” laboratories, which may equally be the breeding ground for scientific experiments carried out by amateurs.

1.3. A necessary form of research engineering

This new opening of scientific data transparency, as well as the broadening of participation, imposes an engineering of systems for the collection and publication of scientific results, which allows data to be used and increased in value.

Thus, Scientific and Technical Information (STI) brings together information which professionals working in research, teaching or industry may need. This concept, which first appeared in the 1960s, is linked to the development of information technologies and communication. It emanates from the idea that the marked increase in university and scientific output, as well as the profusion of data, necessitates precise organization to optimize such data dissemination. This is, to some extent, a form of knowledge management.

The STI indiscriminately covers all scientific and technical sectors and assumes various aspects. These include scientific articles, journals, copyright notices, bibliographical databases, open archives and accessible Internet data storage warehouses and particular portals.

It chiefly sets three tasks. These are to increase the value of French scientific output in both the European and international arena and strengthen its notoriety, equipping French research with the means for efficient information to develop scientific output and access to it, and favoring information control.

Despite all of the progress and enthusiasm aroused by these new research practices, the persistence of the former publishing practices and the risks of a poorly controlled science transparency confirms a transition situation, in which new dynamics are gradually asserted.

1.4. Confusion between data and scientific results: avoiding manipulation of research results

Within the co-construction of the scientific protocols movement, a single question crops up. Does science strictly coincide with data production? Even if everyone was in a position to produce data, and had the tools available to process it, would its interpretation be accessible to everyone? The resurgence of the split between those initiated in the domain and laymen is at stake. Especially since the transparency of the scientific protocol increases the risk of fraud (for example counterfeits, forgery and plagiarism). Such a risk imposes quality control regimes upon the knowledge produced. In addition, we are witnessing a risk of the spread of pseudo-scientific politically orientated theories. These arise from studies which have not got the necessary scientific guarantees but which, however, crop up as a result of academically acknowledged research.

Moreover, the algorithms of integrated data may insert a form of reasoning bias within digital archives, by offering content which turns out to be pertinent to criteria for word repetition or content similarity. Human intelligence should therefore remain at the center of the scientific process, which is no longer systematically guaranteed.

Finally, the overabundance of data may put the brakes on the creation of pertinent resources. Only 10% of research data are actually used at the time of publication, while the rest are stored for potential future use. Yet, a marked increase in data collected imposes wide-ranging technical administration. We are speaking here of knowledge engineering. However, this engineering may of course apply, first and foremost, to the excesses of data production.

Scientists are therefore concerned to ensure a rigorous framework for methods employed, to confirm contributions or at least institute validation procedures. Although citizens may increasingly be workers producing scientific output, the role of the global architecture must remain fundamentally devolved to scientists.

To conclude, current knowledge dynamics are characterized by:

  1. – pooling and centralizing scientific data with a view to better dissemination, with the latter remaining dependent upon the system of contracts and the scientific publication markets;
  2. – the marked, indeed exponential, increase in data used for research, which are not, for all that, systematically sources of knowledge;
  3. – the transparency of scientific protocol which outlines the contours of collaborative or citizen science but which does not evade the need for scientific expertise, and in fact poses the issue of intellectual property.11 to reconsider the pertinence of enunciated authority. In short, should science “become anonymised”? Should it give up authoritative argument and academically acknowledged expertise in favor of stepping over a new threshold?

It might be pertinent to carry out the same introspection which was conducted by literary theorists as to the pertinence of keeping the author of a work as a form of unshakable institution, summarizing the words of Samuel Beckett, and Michel Foucault thus wondering, “What matter who’s speaking?” (Dits et Ecrits)11 to reconsider the pertinence of enunciated authority. In short, should science “become anonymised”? Should it give up authoritative argument and academically acknowledged expertise in favor of stepping over a new threshold?