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Open Data, Big Data and the Future of Science

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On Wednesday 10 June, CODATA President Geoffrey Boulton will give a public lecture at the University of Pretoria on ‘Open Data, Big Data and the Future of Science’.

The lecture will be preceded by a brief introduction to ICSU, the International Council of Science, by ICSU Executive Director, Heide Hackmann; and to CODATA, by Simon Hodson, CODATA Executive Director.  A discussion on Open Data and Open Science, particularly from a South African perspective will be led by Rob Adam, Director Designate for the Square Kilometre Array South Africa Project.

The abstract for the lecture follows:

The technological revolution of recent decades has produced an unprecedented explosion in the human capacity to acquire, store and manipulate data and information and to instantaneously communicate them globally, irrespective of location. It is a world historical event that has already created major changes in societies and economies, which also offers great challenges and opportunities for science. It challenges a principle, concurrent publication of concept and evidence, that has been the bedrock of scientific progress in the modern era of science. But it also offers new opportunities for scientific discovery through the exploitation of so-called “big data” and this in ways that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries and includes the social and human sciences; novel possibilities for commercial innovation; greater involvement of a wider range of stakeholders and citizens in co-production of knowledge; and a deeper democratic engagement with the ways that scientific knowledge is created and used. Moreover, open data and open science are important issues for democracy and the future of an open society. Science must be a public and not a private enterprise that is conducted behind closed laboratory doors.

Responding to the challenges and exploiting the opportunities will depend upon new technical solutions for presenting, sharing and analysing data; on capacity building in “data science”; and on changing the habits and norms of researchers and their institutions to create a culture of openness and data sharing. Science is an international activity, done in a national cultural setting, thereby requiring national strategies to fit within a common international frame. The role of international bodies such as CODATA and ICSU is to facilitate the fit between national priorities and processes and rapidly developing international norms.

The ‘data revolution’, and the emergence of data science as a discipline, raise important questions for international science and for the science base in Africa. The Square Kilometre Array will provide a major impetus. From a broader perspective there are major opportunities and challenges to be seized. Professor Boulton’s lecture will lay out the opportunities and challenges from an international perspective and set the scene for a discussion about science and science policy for Africa in the age of Big Data. 

Further details are available on the University of Pretoria website: