“Science is about discovering that things aren’t as you expected. The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. One of the fun things about what I do just now is that I get to see a lot of different research communities and how they conceive of and represent data, and what data mean to them.
There are really a lot of different discipline-oriented communities. I come from a domain repository – we just called it a data center – and for me, it’s interesting coming from that environment as opposed to the library, institution, repository, or iSchool environments, who are dealing with very similar issues and approaching them with different perspectives.
I do think in some areas there is emerging consensus and that’s exciting to see. The very fact that everyone accepts PIDs on data, that’s almost universal, we might argue about which one, but the strong consensus is that there should be something. We’re seeing greater convergence about metadata standards, too, particularly in my field. I think we’re getting better at listening to each other from different domains – historians and ecologists discover they have the same data problems. This makes them feel they’re not alone but also that their problems are generic and can have common solutions. There is a community. When I first started at a data center 25 years ago, I’d be the data person at science conferences. That’s not the way it works any more.
We are in dire times just now. We seem to be in an age of growing authoritarianism, and some people are trying to pretend there isn’t evidential knowledge. This makes research all the more important. Data sharing, open knowledge, open data, it’s more important than it’s ever been.
“My first job after university, I was doing computer stuff in a medical research place. I got a reputation as someone who was good at rescuing things off of old tapes and punchcards. It had been expensive to collect that data, and people had sometimes suffered in providing it. But it was also a detective job and it was important. But it was disappointing (though great for me professionally) when years later, I could come back into the field, and the sense of what was wrong then was still there. We still lose data because it’s on some piece of media that someone neglects or we’ve lost the documentation. Or we lose it because nobody knows where it is. If we don’t know it exists someone goes and repeats the work.
Now being able to work with this community of other people is great, making sure that stuff that could be of value in the future gets kept – it matters in lots of ways. It matters because it saves us money, and that is important because it’s our taxes. And it matters because collectively as a society we’ll learn stuff from it: data can help prevent disasters, it can help improve crops, and many other important things in society.
This community is important to what I do every day. The only negative thing is that it gives you the sense of too many possibilities. And you think, ‘Yeah, I can help you do this thing’. And you don’t have time to do it all, which can be a crushing disappointment. But it’s so nice to learn a bunch of things, and it’s an embarrassment of riches – things you can go and do, people you can collaborate with. My job is often telling one group of people, ‘Hey, you should know about this other group’. If that helps someone to reach out and collaborate, I feel like I’ve done something positive.”
“I really love this group of people who work on data management and sharing. I’m excited to be part of this very welcoming community. I never experienced this elsewhere – it’s very nice to collaborate, to network. People are really happy to do work voluntarily. They are people who want to do not just their day to day job, but to change the world!”
“Helping researchers to manage and share their data is what really motivates me. I was a researcher before, and much of research is not shared because the only incentive is to publish in ‘high impact factor’ journals. Nobody cares about what you’ve found out as an early career researcher, unless it’s published in a ‘high impact factor’ journal. I want to share more of the science of discovery. I love contributing to this change.
Data sharing is such an important part of opening up science. What’s really rewarding is when you explore with researchers how they can open up their research. People get a sparkle in their eyes. For me to get one convert really matters. That’s what I’m most happy about.
It’s really important to understand the people you’re speaking with, to have this connection. There is never enough talking and advocacy, having a personal connection and understanding their motivation. That can’t be solved by any technical solution. It’s social change, cultural change. I strongly believe as an ex-scientist that it’s so important to change the reward system for research. It’s got to be transparent and get beyond only valuing what’s in the ‘high impact factor’ journal.”
“We need more south–south collaborations. I’d like to approach this and get in touch with people I’ve met here, and I’m trying to identify other people in Latin America that have the same interests. Our data problems might be different from England or Canada or elsewhere in the north. We have a lot of data that might be at risk of disappearing in the next few years, and this might be a bigger problem in developing countries.
I’m also concerned about how the southern hemisphere is going to contribute. How do I get the funds that I need to get the work done that I need to do? Trying to be part of this community is going to be a challenge for financial reasons. I would surely not be here except for GEO and CODATA support; this was very special for me to receive that funding. Otherwise I would miss this incredible opportunity for networking and knowledge sharing.
I think that open science is the only way forward to answer the complex problems that have been presented by society. These problems are not local and involve so many different knowledge domains. We need to do science from a more collaborative perspective to be able to tackle these challenges. Collaboration is what I’m really passionate about. When I return to Brazil I’ll start to talk to people and see how we can go from here.”
“I’m a molecular biologist, not a data scientist. My recent PhD, however, was in information sciences and my concern was with knowledge management inside research organisations, but now I understand this includes data management.
Technology is very important, but I would like to know more about the social and cultural barriers that people are faced with when managing data, and how organisations may overcome these. Of course, the data professional is not a single person that meets all the requirements. We need capacity building: it’s all brand new for us in Brazil, and there are many challenges. One of them is the participation of women in these discussions. One of the talks that was very special at International Data Week this year was Christine Borgman’s. She had this very broad perspective, a holistic view on open research data. I expect for the future we can see more and more women engaged and have an active voice.”
“I entered into the data profession about three and a half years ago. I found the community to be very welcoming. The ideas of ethics and sustainability are starting to be brought forward more strongly now. Data aren’t just digits in the memory. They have real world effects in real world situations.
One of the things that drew me particularly to the idea of preserving data, is to build on the research investments that people have made. People spend their lives exploring questions. If the information and data those answers are based on, aren’t kept useable in an understandable way, then the answers themselves are also lost. The end result is so many wasted lives when you add it up. It’s the time invested in the exploring these questions, but even more in a broadly humanitarian way, these answers are pursued to improve the lot of humanity. If the data collected through research are lost, the answers themselves are lost, and so the people, the environmental effects are also lost. So I think that’s my most important concern.
Look, I like efficiency. I like effectiveness. Not taking care of things you’ve spent time making, not making sure they can be used effectively – that’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort. It just bugs me. Data is the starting point for any answers we achieve through research. Let’s not waste that effort. If there’s anything this community could respond more in, it’s the human-related areas – the marketing and advertising of the importance of data and the importance of making sure the data is there to go back to. There’s no reason to reinvent wheels, but improving them is vital.”
“I’m passionate about the transfer we’re seeing in research: moving from a cottage industry to a place where knowledge is increasingly coming through trusted processes. Research data will be an output that can be used by lots of people. The problem we have in research is that lots of people can’t use the data. If we can create a trusted environment we can make a big difference to the way data is used.
Look, I’m old. I’m 62, and yet I’m passionate and I don’t want to give this up whilst this change is happening. I want to help get this set up for the next phase. We can make it so that research data is much more available. Our mission is to make research data more available for researchers, research institutions, the nation, and the global community. This means that every day you jump from astronomy to history to social sciences, and you have to think about why it’s valuable to different sorts of people. If you think about this problem in the right way, yes, you have to have technical support for this, but the heart of this is that you have to have trust. That’s how you get things to happen. So I measure data in trust rather than petabytes. I measure data in people rather than petabytes.”
“We’re at this turning point where archivists are working in the area of research data – it’s just so cool to feel like you’re at the cutting edge of something and you can facilitate that conversation. Being an archivist and saying I work with research data can help expand people’s expectations of what archivists do and what we’re interested in. People should consider that archivists are appropriate to data, but archivists should also consider a broader view of what they do. The things we work with can be data. And we need to talk about terminology – we need to find ways of talking that make sense to archivists and also to the research data audience. I love having those conversations across domains. When else would I talk to a physicist or biologist about what they do?”
“So when I was a kid, obviously Star Trek was the thing, because it was our better selves in the 23rd century. Civil rights, women’s rights, all those issues that were happening at that time in the 1960s were simplified in that show. But the thing that got me was the computer. Spock would have this conversation: ‘Computer, what is this thing? What was the global temperature in 1934?’ And there was always an answer. My start with data was looking at how instruments recorded it. As I’ve started to get into managing people, writing code, I’ve realised that we’re the people in someone else’s past. If we don’t get it right, they will suffer. They’ll ask the question, and the computer won’t have an answer. These people are all trying to get to that better 23rd century. It’s slow progress, baby steps. But being able to make sense of the research results that we take now, consolidating that, is really important to me.”