“The research enterprise of a leading academic institution is a complex system of human, physical and digital infrastructures that functions to support the production of new knowledge and the advancement and training of research practitioners.”
My first reaction to the this post was to reflect on the truth or falsehood of the intended message. This first question I asked myself is whether or not human, physical and digital infrastructures were sufficient to advance the research enterprise of a leading academic institution. This seemed inherently true, since pretty much all resources used in research can be described as human, physical, or digital. After determining the sufficiency of human, physical, and digital infrastructures, I began to ponder the more intriguing question of the necessity. Are human, physical, and digital infrastructures all necessary for producing academic research? The answer seemed to vary across the disciplines. Certain disciplines such as engineering and the physical sciences (except at an extremely theoretical level), are very reliant on cutting edge technology of both the physical and digital varieties. Other disciplines such as art and literature, however, are aided by physical and digital infrastructures but not necessarily reliant on them. Thus, a the research enterprise of a leading academic institution could still be theoretically sustained (albeit at a disadvantage) without the use of physical and digital infrastructures. As such I concluded that while human, physical, and digital infrastructures were sufficient for advancing the research enterprise of leading academic institutions, they were not all strictly necessary for doing so. The last question I posed to myself was that of transience. While it is true that human, physical, and digital infrastructures are all fairly prominent in the leading academic institutions of today, the same cannot necessarily be said for the research institutions of yesterday or tomorrow. In the past most research involved no digital resources and significantly fewer physical ones.
The work of many precursors to modern science, such as Issac Newton and Charles Darwin, was often highly theoretical and significantly more focused on human infrastructures as opposed to physical and (nonexistent) digital ones. As time goes on, human infrastructures seem to decrease in prominence relative to their physical and digital counterparts. This phenomenon has the potential to continue far into the future, where the prominence of human infrastructures could decline due to the ever rising potential of artificial intelligence. Similarly, physical infrastructures could also decline in prominence due to the increasing ability for researchers to use software to simulate complex physical phenomena. Ultimately, I would say that while the statement provided in the post elegantly captures the reality of the situation in modern research institutions, due to the differing circumstances of the past and the constant flux of the future, the truth that it espouses is far from constant.