NEWORLD@A – Negotiating World Research Data – A science diplomacy study, funded by the European Research Council, is a multinational collaboration focusing on the history of scientific data diplomacy in the 20th and 21st centuries. The 2.2-million-euro grant will fund a major case study on the diplomacy of scientific data aiming at shedding new light on the origins of the global system of scientific data exchange. Exploring untapped archival documents (including the extensive archives of CODATA) and seeking to chart patterns of data circulation, especially between Global North and South countries, the study will also shape a unique collaboration between leading world research centres across Europe and beyond, devoted to the study of data from international relations and history of science perspectives. The project is funded from 1 January 2022 for five years, and CODATA Executive Director Dr Simon Hodson will participate as a member of the project progress review panel.
An interview with project Principal Investigator Dr Simone Turchetti
CODATA Senior Research Lead Dr Laura Molloy interviewed the project principal investigator, Dr Simone Turchetti, in late 2021 to find out more about the project and how the CODATA community can get involved.
LM: Can you tell us about the main aims of the research: what will you be doing in the NEWORLD@A project, and how do you plan to go about it?
ST: The project is an international collaborative exercise between European countries along with important guests from outside Europe such as the Institute of International Relations at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Centre at Peking University in China. Other important partners include the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Science.
The idea is to start to write a history of the systems of scientific data exchange, from the perspective of agreements between individuals and institutions that have facilitated or prevented their circulation across borders. And yes, a big incentive to start the study is the possibility to start looking at the papers of CODATA – the historical archive – as a tool to help us understand who’s been involved in these processes of either improving or slowing the transfer of scientific exchange data across borders.
One of the assumptions of the project is that we’re going to see the use of scientific data becoming far more relevant, especially during the 20th century. For instance, in the geophysical sciences you start to have the organisation from the 1950s of the world data centres, and then all sorts of dynamics of exchange reflecting Cold War patterns. But the project is not only about geophysical data. We’ll be looking at data of all sorts that help facilitate scientific research and scientific collaborations. For instance, we want to look at data in the nuclear field, given the prominent role that the International Atomic Energy Agency has had, and data in oceanography, data in medical research – it’s not just about one specific discipline. The effort is to map the growth of a global exchange network in the context of data. And to do that, we need to pull on various sets of archives and historical pieces of documentation.
LM: Can you talk a little about how your research background connects to this project?
ST: I’m a historian of science, particularly interested in the 20th century. One of the things that interests me as an historian is this new concept of science diplomacy – the idea that, on the one hand, you see [during the 20th century] the scientific enterprise becoming more and more a kind of diplomacy exercise where scientists themselves have to negotiate internationally for certain things – for instance, data (but not just data!) And on the other hand, how these negotiation processes impact on the political sphere, globally. The world is administered today no longer just through traditional diplomats but also through non-state actors including scientists.
For instance, anything ranging from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen that scientists are at the forefront of what’s being decided. It’s both ‘science versus diplomacy’, and also ‘diplomacy versus science’. And we can think of the case of global research data exchange as being exemplary of that kind of forging of these new relationships.
LM: Can you say more about how CODATA fits in?
ST: My collaborators and I will be coming to Paris to look at the CODATA archive to try to make sense of how the Committee has developed over the years. In the 1960s to 1980s, the purpose of the organisation and the ways of proceeding were completely different, so I think there will be interesting findings for the secretariat as well!
But as well as that, there are other things we want to investigate. One example that we’d like to try to reconstruct is the role that research groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America have had in terms of defining global research data infrastructures. My understanding is that in the 1980s, a number of world data centres were opened in China and they were particularly relevant, but we still don’t know why, so we will be trying to understand that. While I try to figure out the mainstream aspects of the history of CODATA, other colleagues will try to understand more about the dynamics of the global west versus east in terms of data circulation. We will hopefully be lucky enough to look at both the CODATA collection as well as collections in China so that we can understand more about the transitions in these dynamics. Perhaps we can make a new contribution in starting to interpret what CODATA has done in the larger picture of these kinds of agreements on data exchange.
Although the CODATA archive is essential to the study, the study is also trying to work on what ideally would be a global history of data exchange, looking at the flows that connect global west and global east as I mentioned, but also global north versus global south, so in terms of distribution of data between developed countries and developing countries. That’s the reason why Brazil is such an important partner here, because we hope that our colleagues in Brazil will help us to understand how data distribution happens across developmental divides. We want to understand why it is that certain continents have so few data repositories compared, for instance, to more developed regions. What is it that they lack in order to start setting up the important infrastructure for scientific research? So yes, we have ambitions to bring all these things together.
LM: How long is the project for?
ST: The start date is 1 January 2022 and the project is for five years, with 2.2 million Euros of funding from the European Research Council. Technically the funding is for my Advanced Study Grant but these grants are given to a PI specifically [to lead a project]. And we already have some infrastructure in place for this project, because the project is connected to the Commission on Science, Technology & Diplomacy (STAND), a Division of the History of Science and Technology (DHST) of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST). This Union essentially covers the studies of the history of science on a global level. The people involved in the Commission will be very active in this project, so we are happy to have international backing from an important organisation at a global level.
LM: And is there anything that you would like from the wider CODATA community at this point?
ST: I come into this from a historian’s perspective, so I’m sure we will need to learn a lot from the scientific communities connected to CODATA. What the CODATA community could do for us on this journey is to advise on the more technical aspects of our work, and we will have to understand a little bit more in the process. So yeah, we hope we can ask [the wider CODATA community] for some collaboration when we reach those points.
LM: And is there a way that they can keep in touch with you and what you’re doing on this project?
ST: At the moment it’s my email address, and I’m happy for anyone to get in touch. Eventually, we will set up a website that will have interfaces to allow anyone else to get in touch.
Find out more
Dr Turchetti’s contact details are available here.
The NEWORLD@A project is described here.
This page created: 2022-03-24.