Category Archives: Humans of Data

Humans of Data is an art intervention into the international research data community, by artist and data researcher Laura Molloy. All material including photographs, text quotes and the name ‘Humans of Data’ are made available under Creative Commons Licence CC-BY-NC. Supporters of the Humans of Data project include CODATA, the Digital Curation Centre and the Research Data Alliance.

Humans of Data 10

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“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.”

Humans of Data 9

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“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.”

Humans of Data 8

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“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.”

Humans of Data 7

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“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.”

Humans of Data 6

img_3939-edit“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.”

Humans of Data 5

img_3780-hod05“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?”

Humans of Data 4

img_3758_small1“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.”

Humans of Data 3

img_3715“I find it relaxing to work with data.  I’m a mathematician by training and much more into applied mathematics, so I find recursive formulas very relaxing and linear algebra is like a fun puzzle, like a crossword.  I like problem solving.  ‘Big data’ is an excellent field for problem solving.  I like finding elegant solutions to complex problems.  I approach problem solving slightly off-kilter from others – I would often get weird grades in school, but it also means that if people give me problems they’re struggling with, I could look at it and come up with something different from them.  This is my first data science meeting.  I’m enjoying the opportunity and being around mathematicians and database people and folks who get excited by data.  And I’m pleased that there are other women I can talk to.”

Humans of Data 2

img_3635-copy“One of the coolest thing is starting out as a student in the research data management field, being early in my career, and then being able to interact with the same people over time. I feel like I’m kind of growing up as an individual. I feel I can say, hey, you guys made an impact on what I do, and now I can give back.”

Humans of Data 1

img_3656_small“I think you need to express yourself the way you feel you should, because what really matters at this conference is that we’re all interested in making data available, accessible and preserving it, and we shouldn’t feel that we have to sacrifice who we are in part or whole, in order to do our work.

I hear far more people who are complimentary about the way I dress than not, so it’s not like it’s problematic. But it shouldn’t matter anyway. We have to just keep being who we are, and the other people will catch up.”