Weak information work in scientific discovery

Carole L. Palmer, Melissa H. Cragin, Timothy P. Hogan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Scientists continually work with information to move their research projects forward, but the activities involved in finding and using information and their impact on discovery are poorly understood. In the Information and Discovery in Neuroscience (IDN) project we investigated the information work involved as researchers make progress and confront problems in the practice of brain research. Through case studies of recent neuroscience projects, we found that the most difficult and time-consuming information activities had parallels with Simon's explication of weak methods in scientific problem solving. But, while Simon's weak/strong distinction is an effective device for interpreting information work, his general conception of how discovery takes place is artificially constrained. We present cross-case and case-based results from the IDN project to illustrate how the conditions of problem solving Simon associated with weak methods relate to information work and to identify additional weak aspects of the research process not considered by Simon. Our analysis both extends Simon's framework of what constitutes the discovery process and further elaborates how weak approaches influence the conduct of research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)808-820
Number of pages13
JournalInformation Processing and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Information practices
  • Information seeking
  • Neuroscience
  • Research processes
  • Scientific discovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Media Technology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Library and Information Sciences


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