Monday, February 22, 2010

The disruptive molecular age of information

I've just been reading the above article on the Robert Scoble blog.

In the article he talks about the molecular age of information - he contends we're currently in the atomic age. He talks about YouTube videos standing alone, each tweet on twitter stands alone. These are all atoms. A user can link these together (to form a molecule) but it takes significant effort and skill.

The molecular age will allow the easy combination of separate elements.

But for me the analogy holds for clinical information. Each article in NEJM or the BMJ is an atom, these can be combined in a systematic review but that takes enormous effort. Similarly, when a clinical question arises the clinician (or information scientist) needs to identify the atoms and bind them together to from the molecule that is an answer. For clinicians, with their clinical background, the merging can be straightforward but the identification of the atoms is problematic. For an information scientist, the opposite is true.

Are there ways we could ease the merging of these atoms to form the molecule (answer)?

I quite like the idea, and have done for years, in cutting up the atoms (documents) into smaller parts (sub-atomic particles). For instance, an atom/article might be 2,000 words long, yet the information the clinician wants might only be 100 words. Is there a way of splitting atoms - creating reactive sub-atomic particles - waiting to easily re-form to create molecules?

As I write this I'm not sure if using the analogy is helpful or instructive. I like it and therefore will reflect and see if it can be utilised further.

Might this all lead to the creation of molecular information scientists?

1 comment:

Michael Baldwin said...

Thanks for a lovely metaphor Jon. As a non practicing chemist myself the metaphor works very well. However for me the atoms should be the individual patient level data. Hence clinical papers become molecules (where different atoms come together) and systematic reviews are polymers. The medical education/informatics communities then act as catalysts to transform these atoms to replicate patient outcomes - pushing it a bit?