Databases as Scientific Instruments and Their Role in the Ordering of Scientific Work
Speculation on the implications of increased use of information and communication technologies in scientific research suggests that use of databases may change the processes and the outcomes of knowledge production. Most attention focuses on databases as a large-scale means of communicating research, but they can also be used on a much smaller scale as research tools. This paper presents an ethnographic study of the development of a mouse genome mapping resource organized around a database. Through an examination of the natural, social and digital orderings that arise in the construction of the resource, it argues that the use of databases in science, at least in this kind of project, is unlikely to produce wholesale change. Such changes as do occur in work practices, communication regimes and knowledge outcomes are dependent on the orderings that each database embodies and is embedded within. Instead of imposing its own computer logic, the database provides a focus for specifying and tying together particular natural and social orderings. The database does not act as an independent agent of change, but is an emergent structure that needs to be embedded in an appropriate set of work practices.