Home | Author | Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Acknowledgements | Subject Index

For All Worldwide, A Holistic View

(All chapters are intended for continuing revision)

Return to Chapter 2.5  |  Go to Chapter 2.7

Volume II - Chapter Six

(Last updated Oct.. 2, 2007)


A need to strengthen international collaboration...in big science...to tackle such problems as AIDS, global warming, energy research. --UNESCO news release on 1996 World Science Report

.Wide-scale and geographically dispersed collaboration has become...necessary to bring multidisciplinary experts to bear on challenging research problems. --Michael Roberts

...the campuses are hooked together...gigabit to tens of gigabit connectivity...this broadband `living laboratory'...the Global scientific Grid develops as  the essential information infrastructure foundation for discipline after discipline                            --Larry Smarr

This  `planetary co-laboratory' will provide `virtual places' where scholars, artists, scientists, students, policy makers, and stake holders can work together on an international scale to address world problems and enrich the arts and sciences. --Thomas Maxwell

Note: UNESCO collaboration: <http://www.guni-rmies.net/k2008>.

THINK BIG! We must learn to live together on this plant and how to work together more effectively. The 20th century has seen the beginning of large-scale `co-laboratories.' Interconnected scholars, artists, scientists, on many continents work together as if all were in the same office, lab, studio or stage. A former chair of the Council for Science and Society, Zeman (1990), said that science is going through a radical structural transition. Knowledge and art creation are fusing and being collectivized. For many purposes they become truly international enterprises, organized systematically on a global-scale, with more strategic research and collaboration. Researchers are just at the beginning of an era of increasingly powerful collaboration tools. What, for example, will succeed such virtual community and collaboration tools--many more coming into existence, some using cell phones in virtual conference rooms for real time and recorded conversation, video and data, polling, messaging. shared whiteboards, chat, audio and streaming visual sharing and much more? (Note, however, that important discoveries in science are generally not  the work of vast collaboraions, but of a couple of often largely unknown researchers.

Vest (2006) has predicted that the next stage in the development of a global online university will be the`online laboratory. "Most experiments now are controlled by computers,"  he says. "Therefore the experiments can be controlled from any  distance." MIT students can operate experimental equipment from the dorm  rooms or elsewhere. "The Carnegie Corporation has made it possible for some students in Africa to use iLab  software "that someday may may provide free and open access to  to online laboratories all over the world."

.,Next, how about larger co-laboratories for lifelong education and planet management? Colleges and universities brought scholars together in ways that have made co-labs possible. Then if  graduate schools and research laboratories were added on top of undergraduate schools. Now another level emerges, hyperspace research co-laboratories. Research on global-scale crises, like education, increasingly requires a level and scope that are international and intercultural. More than cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary, that research level is transdisciplinary, a larger partnership between fields of study and disciplines. Later we will discuss the implications of this for larger-scale research on education itself, but first here in volume two we discuss research on crisis areas that limit the possibility of providing adequate education for everyone on the planet.

An increasingly large share of government science funding has been going to mega-science projects, Colombo (1996) said it was, in part, because so much of what we now need to know is increasingly complex and subtle. "Ever larger and more expensive projects are required [and the] knowledge so gained may reveal solutions to some of the most pressing problems affecting humankind; such as global warming, water shortages, epidemics and meeting energy needs." Yet funding for science projects is being "starkly reduced. This means that mega-science project planners in many countries--and in many small science projects--may profit from pooling their efforts, dividing responsibilities and sharing costs. Some large-scale co-lab experience may be found in big industry projects, the planning of big weapons systems, for the construction of huge dams and telecommunications systems.

The 1996 UNESCO world science report distinguished between two kinds of mega-science: (a) a central facility project such as a space telescope used by scientists in many countries. And (b) distributed facility `mega-projects' such as coordinated intercontinental Global Change research programs. This definition, the report says, does not include large technology projects such as the space station, and admits that there is a borderline between (a) and (b). That is illustrated by research like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project that linked scientists in North America, the European Union, Russia and Japan.


International "co-laboratories" are `virtual places' where scholars, artists and scientists work together; one type being when large, integrated laboratories such as Brookhaven and the Max Planck Institutes coordinate some research. International co-laboratories share funding and a work plan for the accomplishment of a particular objective. Each co-lab may have a different goal and objective, or a range of goals and objectives. Our interest here is even larger, linking such co-labs for research on accomplishing planetary lifelong education for all and other serious problems of humanity, including the most important unsolved scientific challenges related to the quality of human life and learning.

Any co-lab needs some centralized data management capacity (2.2.1); some support system for teamwork; networking for continuing thinking and planning together (2.4.1); and some use of simulation, modeling, graphics and gaming, often first to clarify the goals, methods and organizational structures of the co-lab itself. It may begin much as a few people in a lab or team create a film or opera. Now they can reach out worldwide, interconnecting with many teams. Varied kinds of co-labs can tackle the most difficult problems if they are themselves networked together to share ideas, experiments and, discoveries in more holistic context. Should we imagine that sometime there might be one global, integrated mega-research system that linked all the co-labs in the world?  See: <http://www.edc.org/GLG/gkd-dotcom/>.

The term co-lab has also been used for any interaction of scientists with shared instrumentation, distributed data systems, and collaboration among individuals and teams. Many researchers and creative teams already have closer collaboration with colleagues around the world than with those down the hall. The mega -research co-lab is increasingly an electronic environment. At present it can be enabled by multimedia computer conferencing, Groupware and much more, as seen in the collaborative astronomy system or the use of instruments in space and under the ocean--as in weather/climate research. A co-lab can involve many disciplines, scientists, artists and technicians from many countries wherever they are, including those with disabilities like cosmologist Steven Hawking.

Scholars and others thus work together regularly on an international scale as never before. Together they can now create, combine and use tools to deal with problems that previously have been too complex and difficult. They can do their work faster, more efficiently, more creatively, more comprehensively and more collaboratively. As a result, the ever-growing need for holistic approaches to global projects is now more obtainable. From successful beginnings underway, from current experimentation to build upon, a global scientific research system can result in ` bursts of creative interaction' across disciplinary, cultural and international boundaries. Some 2002 illustrations of co-labs are: the "Space Physics and Aeronomy Research Co-Laboratory at the University of Michigan;  the MIT Open Knowledge AFL Co-Lab;" the Cambridge (UK) Medical Research Molecular Co-Lab and the Co-Lab for ATM research.

Smarr (2003) says that we will soon need "a standardized laboratory environment--integrating computing, storage, and visualization" that is easy to set up because "the Grid is data-driven." A `data storage utility' will be needed, he says thaat must be "provided by the campus as a whole" with a huge amount of storage that is available to anyone on campus.  


Can a networking structure of co-labs--and of universities fpr research --replace bureaucratic structures that might seek to impose `a global research plan' or other institutional education goose-stepping requirements from the top down? There can be many scenarios for emerging research structures. Those who evaluate them may find value in one uniform organizational structure. Computer networking, however, can enable cooperation and coordination of a variety of organizations and structures. Organizations can be improved, through modeling of various alternatives, but sociological research--however limited it now is--seems to suggest that no organization can ever be perfect. Determined and talented human beings. however, can make many quite different organizational forms work and can link variety together.

Human beings are the problem, and existing co-labs engage combinations of technology that makes it possible for all kinds of people to coordinate their efforts. Think of a `situation room,' as used by NASA or the military; or one at the U.S. Department of Commerce that was used by various agencies. Such an environment can bring together all needed resources and technologies, including hardware, software, data bases and connections, that are needed for a particular project. Such existing situation rooms are primitive beginnings of what is likely to be possible in the next two decades. We are hardly yet able to imagine a truly global coordinating center, what it might be and do. One accomplishment might be a new plan for `education for all.'.

The imagination of researchers can be stimulated, however, by examining, evaluating and enlarging upon some possible components, such as the University of Lancaster's (UK) computerized world atlas; the British Open University's `KMi Stadium,' an experiment in using current and especially developed media to give participants <http://kmi.open.ac.uk> suites of software tools that work together as a system to support and facilitate collaborative work." It aims to provide for co-laboratories where experiments can be undertaken in a VR (virtual reality) environment; for example, types of projects where using real people or animals would raise ethical questions. (2.14,1)

Some other computer-operated environments are described in Myron Krueger's Artificial Reality II. Another beginning was seen in blogs, MOOs and MUDs. The first MUD (Multiple-User Dimension) was a virtual environment where users could play a game together in real time. A MOO (MUD Object Oriented) was elaborated into `a constructed world' which is "an ideal place for collaboration," for invention and where researchers, Crump (1996) said, can "come up with ideas that none of them would have had alone." From his experience, he sees a MOO as a real-time environment that extends and solidifies community and helps create "the synergy of `thought-coming-together'...in a communal endeavor." The MOO is not a substitute for written documentation nor for essential face to-face meetings. It is a different and equally valuable way for colleagues to continue working together between face-to-face meetings, especially empowering the informal and conversational side of large-scale research projects. (See 2.3..8) Sometimes a `situation room' can be the control room where big projects are divided into many small tasks, each job assigned to a sub-team that works simultaneously. It would make possible a holistic picture of something that is beyond the comprehension of any one mind or small team of minds; for example, the putting together of pictures of the entire universe from vast amounts of satellite data from space exploration. That may be much more important for the future of humanity than we yet realize. Many different disciplines will be required for a grand design that takes account of all that is known about the universe. On MOO see: <www.itp.berkeley.edu/~thorne/MOO.html>  Beyond MOOs is MUVE (Multi-User Virtual Environment) such as `TAPPED IN,' see: 2.3.6 and <www.tappedin.sri.com/info/papers/evol99/>


ICGEBnet of the Trieste, Italy, International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology allows molecular biology scientists worldwide  to use a large variety of data bases in biosafety, genetics, biodiversity and biological sequence data banks, as well as nearly all molecular biology databases. It uses electronic bulletin boards, e-mail and wide area information services. It makes available a large variety of specialized software, including three major program packages for biological sequence analysis, workshops and a complete user's manual as well as a list of experts and sources of counsel.

ICGEBnet,funded by the European Economic Community, maintained collaboration with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany, the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information, the United States Department of Agriculture and other national international agencies. The Biosafety Archives have been maintained in collaboration with the Agricultural Biotechnical Center in Hungary and is available through a wide area information server and e-mail through the Institute of Biochemistry and Protein Research, also in Hungary. On the world wide web is a comprehensive list of the software packages, electronic library accessibility, databanks, bibliographies and so forth.

Human Genome Project (HGP) scientists were involved in a `virtual co-lab' with an annual budget that across fifteen years has cost three billion dollars and involved laboratories and scientific organizations worldwide. It has been leading human society "to rethink its fundamental views on ethics, law and society. (Peters 1993, 14.1) Its databases were made available worldwide through which scientists share what they learn. The need for international collaboration to keep the integrated data base current and to maintain its integrity is seen in the fact that findings double every year.

It was early found that the cost and time of the project could be reduced from 10-to-100-fold through continually recreated and enlarged computer map building, comprehensive under girding databases, error examination, computer modeling and comparative analysis. One does not need to understand the technology to appreciate the grand scope of this and other co-lab projects.  This HGP co-lab continued to be important for almost all biological and medical research. It involves projects at universities, genome centers, national laboratories and other research organizations. The project investigated all the human genetic material--the genome--by improving existing human genetic maps, by constructing physical maps of entire chromosomes, and by seeking to find the complete sequence of the DNA sub units of the human genome. The mega-research genome project has had significant interdisciplinary implications in medicine, environmental studies, and social issues. Policy makers see that the project is different from many scientific programs in that it has included also the study of related ethical, legal and social implications of the data, including questions of privacy, fairness and clinical applications. And that is a first step! Needed next is a much more comprehensive map of all genetic information, plants, animals, everything?  The next goal, far more ambitious, is to similarly map protein characteristics to render them accessible for further biological study. Can all that comprehensive data ultimately become part of a `smart map of the entire planet' that seeks to encompass everything that affects the quality of life for humans and our world; and of the universe in millennia ahead?


Outer space research constitutes another grand-scale co-lab. It uses such technology as remote sensing, orbiting satellites and space platforms and much more even at this primitive stage of space exploration. Astronomers on several continents can function as if they were together on one campus when they use space-based astronomy equipment such as the Hubbell Telescope. When the system is functioning properly, astronomers can direct the equipment from many locations by means of a sophisticated computer-communications network. Other colleagues worldwide collaborate to explore the upper atmosphere, using a conference system to study complex events that happen in remote places. At their workstations in Europe and America, using the Upper Atmosphere Research Co-laboratory, scientists have analyzed data being recorded by instruments in Greenland much as other scientists use telescopes from distant locations. Before that, researchers had to travel to Greenland to study the data being collected on the relation between solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field. This travel was no longer necessary once a multidisciplinary `co-laboratory' enabled scientists in distance locations to work in teams on the same data. The project was interdisciplinary in that behavioral scientists and others at the Cognitive science and Machine Intelligence Lab to observe how scientists could collaborate in such a co-laboratory. It was found that when scientists combined and synthesized their understanding they were more likely to experience the synergy of unexpected insights. The communication and data system also made it possible to concentrate more on science and less on the technology.


Increasingly comprehensive research on the `total earth system' provides other insights into the potential of co-labs. (10.1). A total earth system co-lab may in time link hundreds of thousands of local ecological maps, such as the inter-disciplinary ecological map of the San Francisco bay area (Grossinger 1997). It has been a collaborative effort of hundreds of people to create a picture of that landscape as it existed before European colonization. It shows what exists and what has been lost with urbanization. It provides "a guide to the soils, tides, winds and rains," data to decide priorities for restorative efforts. The Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project reports the past, the present and what can be done in the future to build a healthy ecosystem. Creating this first version of a Historical Ecology Atlas has involved scientists, ordinary citizens who are concerned about the environment, and even junior high school students whose playful explorations rediscovered sausals which no one else knew about. It was planned to expand to adjacent watersheds, using computer-based mapping of the past, present and future landscape. The Seattle project in chapter nine illustrates other local project that might be linked in such a mega-research strategy.

The World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) World Weather Watch (Cleveland 1993) is made possible by the use of satellites for picture-taking, remote sensing, and instant communications, by the use of computers "for large-scale modeling and to integrate global data rapidly enough to be analyzed before the weather had come and gone." The World Weather Watch works well--as another demonstration of co-lab potential--because, within standards and definitions agreed to by governments, the actual data gathering, analysis, modeling and forecasting in WMO is not done by an international bureaucracy. This is accomplished by national weather services and experts scattered around the world in atmospheric research laboratories and university faculties. A grand-scale co-laboratory emerges as technical coordination and large computer capacity has been supplied by three major system nodes in Russia, the United States, and Australia.

Oceanographers must collect and coordinate data from remote ocean areas, a large-scale project involving hundreds of scientists from many countries." (Leslie 1994) Supercomputers are needed for analysis of e-mail, networks and for overseeing data collection, Leslie pointed out. The effectiveness of the research requires that scientists and agency professionals be interconnected worldwide. The need of developing countries to participate in such research is them to train their own experts so that they can contribute their essential data and learn what they need to know for public health, agricultural research, the management of marine resources, the earth's increasingly inadequate water, etc. Attali (2005) pointed out that the world's water crisis is extremely serious, with statistics on France  and that no country is prepared to undertake the mammoth effort that solutions will require..


Can social science researchers learn from other co-labs how to create a `whole human system' co-lab for mega-research on global learning, development, health care and governance? Certainly more comprehensive research is needed to replace the present emphasis on short-term solutions and on projects so often doomed to fail.

We have noted grand designs for bringing together all research related to outer space and also for a total earth system. (Maxwell 1998) Large teams of scientists on at least three continents have participated in the European Laboratory for Particle Physic's (CERN) large high-energy experiments. Physicists pass prototype programs back and forth electronically and accomplish fast peer review of research reports. As human genome research needed "a reliable road map of the genetic landscape," could researchers learn from such efforts to create a comprehensive map of the human social system?

Thousands of research initiatives could probably be linked in a human system co-lab. For example, the Kellogg Foundation funded an initiative at the University of Michigan to create an international multidisciplinary consortium to define new areas of professional specializations to serve society's needs. In 1997-98 an effort began to establish a Southern African Development, Culture and Communications Network. It was to be a consortium of many agencies, including UNESCO, the Collaboratory for Information Society Development in Africa, the United Nations Development Program's Sustainable Development Networking Program and more. Rather than competing with other initiatives and networks--as is done so often--this consortium proposed to link them together, thus focusing on research, evaluation and facilitation. It also aimed to link and support local community initiatives. One of its goals was to "foster a new generation of women and men in Africa to leverage the development of their communities and nations."

A research university itself, or a consortium of them, might be seen as a social co-lab, linking minds, models, maps, laboratories, libraries and more. A neighborhood might become a co-lab, (2.18.1) so also a country (2.17.1). Bates (1997) told a World Bank Symposium about a joint online project of the University of British Columbia and Monterrey (Mexico) Institute of Technology. Participants from many countries were rebuilding a rural Chinese village. They were laying sewers, paving streets and in other ways modernizing the village online. They were instructed to do so in ways that would preserve and enrich local culture and not change the charm of its traditional architecture.

Chapter Seven will illustrate using a co-lab game to explore grand designs for meeting one of humanity's most crucial needs. New precision can come into the diagnosis of crises, the definition of issues and alternatives. (Brewer 1977).

The next chapter also illustrates the potential of using the information technologies which these first six chapters have discussed, and shows that a global-scale social co-lab need not be prohibitively expensive.

Return to Chapter 2.5  |  Go to Chapter 2.7

Bibliographical Notes

Attali, Jacques. 2005. "Pour Tout d'eau du Monde." L'Express (France), October 6.

Bates, Anthony. 1997. "Technology, Education and National Development." Unpublished, University of British Columbia.

Brewer, Stewart. 1987. Simulated Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 

Colombo, Umberto et al.  1996. ""Megascience." Paris: UNESCO.

Grossinger, Robin. 1997. "Sausal." Yes magazine. winter.

Humanity  3000. 1999. "Seminar Design." Humanity 3000 News. Summer. 

Krueger, Myron. 1991. Artificial Reality II. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.  

Maxwell, Thomas. 1998  "Virtual Earth" online discussion, Dec. 8.

Peters  1993. The Circle of Innovation. New York: Knopf.

Smarr, Larry. 2003. In Daigle's "Add Another Zero: An Interview with Larry Smarr." Educause, Nov./Dec.

Vest,, Charles M. 2006. "Open Contwnt and the Emerging Global Meta-University." Educause, May/June

Zeman, John.  1990. Prometheus Bound. Cambridge Univ. Pres. 


The Future of Higher (Lifelong) Education: For All Worldwide: A Holistic View
For more information contact Parker Rossman
July 12, 2006 -- Copyright © 2002-2005 Parker Rossman