EDITORIAL

SAGE Lessons

Science  07 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5783, pp. 17
DOI: 10.1126/science.1131700

Don Kennedy

George M. Martin, M.D.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Science ventured into new territory in 1999 with the launching of a Web-based “knowledge environment” or KE. KEs were envisaged as capturing major advances in rapidly developing and noteworthy areas of science—areas where progress is reported in widely scattered publications and thus is not readily accessible to researchers and educators in a comprehensive and integrated fashion. The first such initiative embraced the mushrooming field of cellular signal transduction research. STKE, the Signal Transduction Knowledge Environment (http://stke.sciencemag.org), has enjoyed a steady growth of subscribers and has become well entrenched within numerous scientific communities. Signaling pathways communicate with each other, and STKE has encouraged some healthy cross-talk among many of the disciplines in this field.

Two years after the emergence of STKE, Floyd Bloom, Ellis Rubinstein, and their colleagues at Science identified the biology of aging as a field of biomedical research with those same qualities of rapid development, high significance, and dispersed literature. Thus was born SAGE KE, the Science of Aging Knowledge Environment (http://sageke.sciencemag.org/). The Ellison Medical Research Foundation provided an exceptionally generous initial grant. Other important contributions came from the Paul Glenn Foundation, the Merck Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, and the German Research Centre for Biotechnology. SAGE KE has seen subscriptions grow (its content has included freely accessible material as well as information relying on subscription support) as it forged a bridge between scientific disciplines, vigorously nurturing interactions and information exchange. It has been a bridge at many levels: providing timely articles about discoveries in numerous fields, publishing critical analyses of research, acting as a gateway to database information, serving educational tools, and offering a critical means for scientists to communicate with each other. And thanks to the hard work of Dan Perry and the Alliance for Aging Research, SAGE KE extended this bridge to policymakers grappling with hot-button aging issues through SAGECrossroads (http://www.sagecrossroads.net/).

CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES/STOCKBYTE

Unfortunately, there was insufficient support to sustain SAGE KE, and it will no longer post new content after June 2006. However, its wealth of material is archived and will remain accessible indefinitely (free to AAAS members) and searchable by PubMed. The history of SAGE KE repeats what is now a familiar story about the uncertain fates and longevities of new Web sites and electronic resources that depend on private and/or federal funding, and on the budgets of a research community that is already stretched to its limits. Survival depends on sustained funds, and granting agencies are more in the business of seeding rather than maintaining such projects. For those electronic resources providing freely accessible information, the struggle is especially tough. Recently, the Biomolecular Interaction Network Database—the world's largest free repository for proteomic data—lost its funding and curtailed its curation efforts. Its future remains unclear. Perhaps, like the Los Alamos preprint server—the favored repository of research by physicists, now located at Cornell University—it will find more secure support through other sources.

For those enterprises that offer unique combinations of information that is freely accessible, as well as content that is not funded by grants, endurance can be even trickier. Researchers and librarians have to make tough subscription decisions with increasingly strained budgets. Because electronic resources not only help individual research communities but can bridge them in new ways, they deserve support. The lesson for stakeholders among the scientific community, policymakers, and educators is that they need to take an active role in the viability of such enterprises. Otherwise, resources they consider valuable may simply become electronic history.

As for SAGE KE, we are exceedingly grateful to the communities that contributed and for the exceptionally talented editors and writers that joined it. On the editorial and journalistic side, Kelly LaMarco, Evi Strauss, Heather McDonald, John Davenport, and Mitch Leslie have our lasting thanks, as do our numerous scientific advisors and contributors, including many postdoctoral fellows who reported from the trenches. SAGE KE may have taken a break from the business of further development. But perhaps, as biogerontologists would say, this is only a period of pause—a “dauer” phase—in its life history.

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