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Human-Computer Interaction Redefines Science

March 10, 2008
University of Maryland
In a provocative new article in Science, computer specialists says it's time for the laboratory research that has defined science for the last 400 years to make room for a revolutionary new method of scientific discovery.

University of Maryland's Ben Shneiderman, one of the world's leading researchers and innovators in human-computer interaction, says it's time for the laboratory research that has defined science for the last 400 years to make room for a revolutionary new method of scientific discovery.

He calls it Science 2.0., and it combines the hypothesis based inquiry of laboratory science with the methods of social science research to understand and improve the use of new human networks made possible by today's digital connectivity. Through Science 2.0, the societal potential of such networks can be realized for applications ranging from homeland security to medical care to the environment.

Shneiderman points to the effect that the World Wide Web and cell phones have had on building human collaborations and influencing society. "eBay, Amazon, Netflix have already reshaped consumer markets. Web-based political participation and citizen journalism are beginning to change civil society. Online patient-centered medical information has improved health care. MySpace and Facebook encourage casual social networks, but they may soon play more serious roles in emergency disaster response, for instance.

"It's time for researchers in science to take network collaboration like this to the next phase and reap the potential intellectual and societal payoffs. We need to understand the principles that are at work in these systems," said Shneiderman.

Francis Bacon vs. Science 2.0

Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon promoted the research strategy that has ruled scientific quests ever since, what Shneiderman calls Science 1.0. As Shneiderman describes it, Science 1.0 is "reductionist thinking closely linked to controlled experiments," a method that, while successful in explaining natural phenomena "sometimes diverges from solving practical problems and only occasionally advancing broader goals."

"Science 2.0 is about studying design of rapidly changing socio-technical systems. These studies are not replicable in a lab," said Shneiderman. "You have to study social interactions in the real world. Traditional social scientists have tried to understand these systems by data collection, but more effective Science 2.0 research involves design interventions to rapidly improve e-commerce, online communities, healthcare delivery, and disaster response.

"Science 1.0 remains vital, but this ambitious vision of Science 2.0 will require a shift in priorities to combine computer science with social science sensitivity. It will affect research funding, educational practices and evaluation of research outcomes," Shneiderman says.

Shneiderman and a number of colleagues at the University of Maryland are already on the frontier of applying Science 2.0 methods to the computer-based human networks that Shneiderman calls socio-technical systems. Here are a few new intriguing lines of research.

  • Disaster and emergency response -- Shneiderman, Jennifer Preece and several other colleagues are developing Community Response Grid, an emergency response system that would rely on the Internet and mobile communication devices to allow citizens to receive and submit information about significant homeland security community problems. 
  • Why do we trust MySpace? - Jennifer Golbeck is using Science 2.0 methods to understand how people come to trust technical communication networks, something that can't be studied in a laboratory, Shneiderman says. Her results can be applied to many applications of social networking including medical care, voting and homeland security.
  • Why We Respond - Philip Wu looks at motivation for participating in community response through information and communication technologies, and studying average citizens' information needs and behavior when they prepare for, respond to, and recover from large-scale emergencies and disasters.

Science 2.0, How-to - Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant have developed strategies for creating socio-technical systems case studies, published in May, 2006.

The full article was recently published in Science.

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Materials provided by University of Maryland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Cite This Page:

University of Maryland. "Human-Computer Interaction Redefines Science." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2008. <>.
University of Maryland. (2008, March 10). Human-Computer Interaction Redefines Science. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 18, 2024 from
University of Maryland. "Human-Computer Interaction Redefines Science." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 18, 2024).

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