Science today, history tomorrow

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By | From the Collections

At the end of 2012, the science journal Nature recorded a podcast with science writer Georgina Ferry and our Human Genome Project (HGP) archivist Jenny Shaw about the importance of preserving the informal records of modern science.  The podcast is now freely available from the Nature website and accompanies a comment piece for the journal by Georgina, Scientific heritage: Science today, history tomorrow, available online to subscribers (and registered Wellcome Library readers through our e-resources).

During the podcast Jenny talks about some of the challenges for preserving material relating to the HGP (from 1977-2004), including constructing a methodology to make sure the right material from scientists and institutions is collected, whilst also taking into account wider social and political aspects. Jenny also talks about how the growing use of computers through this period brings different preservation challenges. She talks about the importance of the Wellcome Library’s archives access policy for handling potentially sensitive material, like email, to ensure material is preserved, but not released too early.

Georgina highlights the importance of preserving the records of modern science and argues that the informal records of science are essential. For the wider public to understand science then they need more than just the published scientific paper to show how collaborative networks developed and why funding decisions were made. Georgina talks about how some institutions, such as CERN, have good policies in place to preserve key records and encourage their scientists to do the same. She also talks about a project currently underway at the USA’s National Human Genome Resource Institute to preserve the records of its former Director Francis Collins, highlighting the fact that many research institutes do not have a records policy and most scientists do not realise the importance of  preserving their records.

Author: Jenny Shaw

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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