Category Archives: Research Data Alliance

Humans of Data 16

IMG_3801-edit1-900x600“I wonder whether any ethics are applied in collection of samples of Ebola and HIV/AIDS in emergency situations.  When I talk to doctors about it, they are aware that some researchers from the developed world provide expertise and fund research in pandemic situations.  But there are issues on data collection ethics based on informed consent by subjects that deserve scrutiny, given the emergency situations and language barriers under which data is collected.  Are there Memoranda of Understanding between African governments and researchers under these conditions?  There is a need for transparency and openness.  Given the extensive ethical regulations for research on human subjects in the developed world, African countries – which are prone to pandemic disease problems – must engage in the discourse on ethics of data collected under the unique situations that they experience.

It’s the same in the humanities and social sciences: researchers come and take and go.  It is rare for research projects to include funding in the initial project proposal for reporting back to the subjects of the research.  In Botswana, there was a national scan for indigenous knowledge.  We were promised there would be a report back [to the community], but the [research team] never came back.  And then researchers are surprised that participants don’t trust them!

Colonialism was first about land resources.  Now, without open access, globalisation of research may become the next wave of colonisation.  Lower and middle income country researchers need to engage in open debates among themselves on the ownership of data, and how to develop collaboration from collection to analysis with a view to facilitating shared benefits and innovative re-use.  Only in this way will the issues of intellectual property rights be negotiated in an equal exchange.  All researchers – but especially Africa’s researchers – should reflect on the necessary policy and regulatory frameworks that should be negotiated with local institutions and national governments, as part of their intellectual contributions to evidence-based solutions and sustainable development.

Openness is about exposing your strengths and weaknesses.  No one should be intimidated that some have more money.  Others have ideas.”

Humans of Data 15

IMG_3846-edit1-900x600“I’m very passionate about open science.  From where I stand in the context of Africa, there’s so much data we create in government, universities or communities. But at the moment, data, which is the base for reports and provides evidence for government decisions, is not accessible to all except the researcher and specialist research reference committees.  The Botswana Government has a closed research culture, as does the local research community within the academic and private sector circles.  As a librarian, that has always been my concern.  When work is done in that way, you find that the resultant data is archived and owned by the funding authority.

The current system is dysfunctional due to a lack of regulatory mechanisms, appropriate follow-up processes and systems for creating national open databases. Without reliable databases for research reports, research data cannot be open or accessible.”

Humans of Data 13

IMG_4383“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.

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


“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 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?”