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Bioinformatics: indispensable, yet hidden in plain sight?

Bartlett, Andrew, Penders, Bart and Lewis, Jamie Thornton ORCID: 2017. Bioinformatics: indispensable, yet hidden in plain sight? BMC Bioinformatics 18 , 311. 10.1186/s12859-017-1730-9

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Abstract Background Bioinformatics has multitudinous identities, organisational alignments and disciplinary links. This variety allows bioinformaticians and bioinformatic work to contribute to much (if not most) of life science research in profound ways. The multitude of bioinformatic work also translates into a multitude of credit-distribution arrangements, apparently dismissing that work. Results We report on the epistemic and social arrangements that characterise the relationship between bioinformatics and life science. We describe, in sociological terms, the character, power and future of bioinformatic work. The character of bioinformatic work is such that its cultural, institutional and technical structures allow for it to be black-boxed easily. The result is that bioinformatic expertise and contributions travel easily and quickly, yet remain largely uncredited. The power of bioinformatic work is shaped by its dependency on life science work, which combined with the black-boxed character of bioinformatic expertise further contributes to situating bioinformatics on the periphery of the life sciences. Finally, the imagined futures of bioinformatic work suggest that bioinformatics will become ever more indispensable without necessarily becoming more visible, forcing bioinformaticians into difficult professional and career choices. Conclusions Bioinformatic expertise and labour is epistemically central but often institutionally peripheral. In part, this is a result of the ways in which the character, power distribution and potential futures of bioinformatics are constituted. However, alternative paths can be imagined.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NMHRI)
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Publisher: BioMed Central
ISSN: 1471-2105
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 June 2017
Date of Acceptance: 13 June 2017
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 02:02

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