The Taiwan Academy for Information Society: A Platform for Knowledge Creation and Practice

Tao Chen-Chao

In 2002, domestic scholars Chang Wei-An, Wu Chyi-In, Tseng Shu-Fen, Jai Ben-Ray, and Kuo Liang-Wen participated in the Internet and Society Seminar held by Kung Hsiang-Tsung, a member of the Academia Sinica, at Harvard University. They identified an urgent need for an academic organization for information technology in Taiwan and therefore founded the Taiwan Academy for Information Society. The Society has recently been focusing on filling three main roles: 1. a host of academic events, 2. a facilitator of the incorporation of international exchange into talent cultivation, and 3. a promoter of scholarly communication. These roles are described in detail as follows. 

1 The Society as a host of academic events

From the emergence of the Internet to the current rise of artificial intelligence and algorithms, the main goal of the Society has been to encourage interdisciplinary scholars to explore various possibilities and the future development of emerging technologies and to promote knowledge creation by hosting academic events. To this end, the Society has established two development priorities. First, the Society hosts an annual conference in mid-November every year. Each annual conference must be unique in spirit and characteristics to avoid becoming merely a routine or a norm. The proceedings of the annual conferences are selected through a competitive process. The time between the submission and publication of conference papers is relatively short, typically 4 to 6 months. Although the published papers may have room for improvement, the short timeline enables them to address current social or academic issues in a timelier manner. At each annual conference, approximately 40 papers are selected through anonymous review. Outstanding and highly original papers are occasionally discovered. To maintain the competitiveness of the selection process, the Society limits the acceptance rate. Although some papers may be undeservedly overlooked, this approach facilitates the continuous improvement of the quality of the conference proceedings, attracts the attention of publishers, and encourages the submission of high-quality and theoretically and methodologically sound articles, thus reflecting the Society’s core value of knowledge creation.The annual conferences provide scholars with an opportunity to communicate and debate with each other. Scholars anticipate that the papers they complete can generate discussion and draw attention and that they will be afforded the opportunity to engage in dialogue with scholars holding different viewpoints. Therefore, the annual conferences are about not only publication but also the initiation of conversation and debate. Authors are instructed to present the focuses, implications, and contributions of their research in the conferences within a limited time. Reviewers are selected carefully on the basis of the competitive principle and given sufficient time to express reviews and opinions from the perspectives of dialogue and debate. The selection of papers and topics for each conference; the scheduling of hosts and commentators; and the planning of the agenda, refreshments, and free communication time are intended to promote meaningful interactions. As of 2022, approximately 200 scholars and students participate in the annual conference each year. The attendees, including both authors and audience members, can acquire new ideas and initiate new research or collaborative projects after the conference. 

Finally, the annual conferences help inform scholars of emerging research topics and trends. Since the founding of the Society in 2002, society worldwide has undergone multiple revolutions brought about by information and communication technology. Recent years have seen the rapid emergence of various problems, including those related to information dissemination and the public domain, quantitative and qualitative changes in interpersonal relationships caused by the rise of social media, behavioral changes in social mobilization associated with the popularization of mobile devices and the widespread use of communication software, and privacy vulnerabilities resulting from advancements in artificial intelligence. Therefore, the Society must establish a systematic mechanism by which it can encourage members pay attention to and familiarize themselves with these emerging problems, conduct relevant research, and pursue academic development. The topics of the annual conferences are selected accordingly. For example, the topics of the 2014–2019 annual conferences were “New Media and Citizen Movements,” “The Self–Group Relationship: Social Media and Society,” “We.Media,” “Mobile Connections: Always Online,” “The Algorithmic World,” and “Opportunities and Pitfalls of Data Capitalism,” respectively. To increase research opportunities, the Society also arranges symposiums and invites pioneering scholars in different emerging fields of study to comment on research trends and share their experiences. 

The Society’s second development priority is professional research method camps and public engagement. The Society invited Prof. Barry Wellman from the University of Toronto, a pioneer in the field of social network analysis, and Prof. Stanly Wasserman from Indiana University, a prominent developer of the same field, to speak at the annual conferences in 2004 and 2011, respectively. Social network analysis has become an increasingly crucial research method in recent years and has been applied in various types of social science research. However, few university departments in Taiwan have offered courses on social network analysis, and no systematic research has been arranged to provide scholars with opportunities for advanced learning. Research on big data, data science, or online public opinion surveys has had similar shortcomings. Institutions must establish research methods to train more scholars, enabling them to open relevant courses in universities and promoting the development of systematic teaching materials. With respect to public participation, the Society has cooperated with the Taiwan Network Information Center multiple times in recent years and engaged in studies on Internet use. Topics related to information and society, from fake news and misinformation, online opinions, and elections to voice assistants, smart homes, self-driving cars, and privacy, have penetrated all aspects of human life. The Society facilitates and offers advice on members’ research and discussion of relevant topics.

2 The Society as a facilitator of the incorporation of international exchange into talent cultivation

Because the issues with which the Society is concerned are transnational in nature and closely related to information and communication technology, the Society must plan talent cultivation programs from an interdisciplinary perspective. Furthermore, fewer students have been applying for doctoral programs in social sciences in Taiwan recently, and the number of students from Taiwan studying abroad has declined. In the near future, Taiwan will encounter a crisis related to higher-education talent cultivation and global knowledge competition. Some universities in Taiwan have reported receiving few applicants for assistant professor positions and even fewer highly competitive and qualified candidates, indicating that the need to cultivate talent in the field of information and society in Taiwan has become urgent. 

The first strategy the Society uses to cultivate talent involves valuing and promoting the professional development of young scholars. One of the Society’s main goals is to help young scholars invest in and devote themselves to their field, establish research standards in line with international standards, and direct research development. The Society has developed a training system for secretary generals and deputy secretary generals. Young scholars are invited to apply for the deputy secretary position. The main responsibility of a deputy secretary during their 2-year term is to invite outstanding scholars around the world to Taiwan to speak at the annual conference each year about topics relevant to the theme of the conference and the specialties of the scholars by using the funds provided by the Society. This strategy encourages young scholars to contribute to innovation and publish papers in their field of study. Inviting outstanding international scholars to Taiwan and enabling young scholars to meet them promotes further conversation and the establishment of a global network. Within their 2-year terms, deputy secretaries can enter a positive cycle, in which young scholars’ academic achievements meet international standards as they develop their own unique characteristics. After completing their term as a deputy secretary, they will be appointed to serve as a secretary general for 2 years, during which they will help plan the topics of the annual conferences and convene symposiums aligning with development trends in and facilitating expansion of the field of information and society. By providing resources and support, the Society has helped numerous young scholars thrive in the field of information society in Taiwan. 

The Society’s second strategy involves initiating communication with international experts from governments, industries, and universities through the annual conferences. In recent years, the Society has invited numerous internationally renowned scholars, including Barry Wellman from the University of Toronto; Toshio Obi from Waseda University; Harmeet Sawhney, Erik Bucy, and Stanley Wasserman from Indiana University; Joseph Walther and Stephen Lacy from the University of Michigan; Carolyn Lin from the University of Connecticut, and Jonathan Zhu from the City University of Hong Kong, to the annual conferences. The conferences provide a platform for dialogue between international and local researchers and create opportunities for emerging scholars in Taiwan to be integrated in international academic communities. The annual conferences attract potential publications from ethnic Chinese scholars from Singapore, Macao, and Hong Kong and serve as a crucial venue for academic exchange among Chinese-speaking regions. 

Third, the Society will be organizing a doctoral forum during the annual conference starting this year. The cultivation of doctoral students is not restricted to education within universities. Circulating academic works among academic communities and constructing academic networks by publishing papers, promoting debate, participating in peer reviews, and interacting with outstanding scholars are equally indispensable but are rarely emphasized by academic organizations in Taiwan. With the decline in the number of doctoral students in Taiwan today, these approaches have become even more crucial. Starting this year, the Society will invite doctoral students to organize a doctoral forum at the annual conference focusing on key topics related to information and society. The forum will include not only domestic doctoral students but also doctoral students from other Asian and European countries and the United States, which help domestic doctoral students develop an international network. The content of the forum will focus on the research and achievements of the doctoral students to ensure that the students can engage in interactions based on solid theoretical thinking and empirical data. In addition, the Society will provide opportunities for doctoral students to interact outstanding senior scholars by inviting the senior scholars to share their research process and experiences. The doctoral students will be encouraged to pose questions to the speakers, enhancing the benefit they receive from the presentations. Doctoral students should serve as primary members of academic organizations and at conferences; however, they have often been neglected in Taiwan. The Society will place greater emphasis on the participation of doctoral students in the future. 

The Society’s fourth strategy involves promoting the cultivation of advanced interdisciplinary research talent. In addition to the declines in the numbers of doctoral students and students studying abroad, the lack of systematic and long-term cultivation of interdisciplinary talent has been identified as a major problem. Interdisciplinary talent cultivation can be achieved by two means: encouraging university students in the fields of information and data science to pursue further studies in in postgraduate social science programs and providing students in the field of social science with courses that can equip them with professional knowledge related to information and data science. Neither approach is easy. Graduate social science institutes rarely plan for the enrollment of students with backgrounds in science and mathematics, and the Ministry of Education provides extremely few scholarships to support the recruitment of such students. Furthermore, few graduate social science institutes provide systematic and progressive courses related to information and data science to enhance students’ abilities, and such institutes often pay little attention to research on information and society, which may be attributable to the lack of higher-education teachers in the field. Interdisciplinary higher-education talents rarely publish their research in social science journals, choosing instead to publish it in information and data science journals. This complicates the process of knowledge creation based on the integration of data science and social science. The Society aims to facilitate such integration through higher-education planning. 

3 The Society as a promoter of scholarly communication

The Society’s third development priority is to promote knowledge creation, evaluation, and dissemination through the Journal of Information Society. Publication in academic journals is one of the main means by which scholars share their knowledge and discoveries. Accordingly, academic organizations are charged with publishing academic journals with rigorous review processes and high-quality content that inspires trends in relevant research. Such academic journals are key to the professional development of scholars in all fields. Researchers worldwide have been campaigning for reforms in scholarly communication.Open access, reproducible research, public participation, and science popularization as well as experimental review processes have emerged as major trends in scholarly communication. Academic journals have recognized the need to initiate change to continue promoting knowledge creation, evaluation, and dissemination. 

The following changes have been made to Journal of Information Society. First, Wei Ran, a professor from South Carolina and the former editor-in-chief of the journal Mass Communication & Society, was invited to the Society. He introduced practices employed by international journals and recruited outstanding ethnic Chinese scholars specializing in information society from around the world to form a review committee. This enhanced the quality of reviews and opinions, enabling contributors to Journal of Information Society to receive high-quality feedback and contemplate how to improve their articles and future research through in-depth dialogue and debate. Second, the Society includes a “Dialogue with World’s Top Scholars” column in each issue and invites domestic middle generation scholars to pose questions to top scholars in the field of information and society and discuss key issues in and possible directions for future research, thus providing readers with a global overview of trends in the field. Third, the Society calls for papers in Chinese and English internationally. In the past 2 years, top Societys (e.g., the International Communication Society) have been hosting public journal and review committee meetings at their annual conferences to develop their journals into platforms for global knowledge creation, evaluation, and dissemination. Fourth, the Society has endeavored to promote digital dissemination and digitize the review process. In 2018, the Journal of Information Society received grants from the Grants for Digital Dissemination of Academic Journals project of the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences of Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The Society has enhanced the content on science popularization available on the journal website, promoted the use of social media, and created a technology that facilitates the input of references from each article into reference management software. Moreover, the review process has been fully digitized to improve its efficiency and quality. 

4 Conclusion

The Taiwan Academy for Information Society provides young scholars with opportunities to engage in international knowledge exchange by hosting annual conferences that are competitive in nature, focus on dialogues and debates, and introduce emerging issues; the Society also publishes a rigorous and high-quality academic journal. The Society promotes conversations between international and domestic academic communities, entry-level and senior scholars, and the academic and industrial sectors and anticipates becoming a bastion of energetic and interdisciplinary knowledge creation.