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Research data: let the flowers grow!

Fran Berman: let the flowers grow!

From March 18-20 I joined with my colleague @jprombouts the launch event of the research data alliance. Obviously much discussion took place on governance issues. However, I also learned some stuff in Goteborg, and took a few ideas back home.

The launch was kicked off by Neelie Kroes, where she put the necessity to form this alliance forward: the EU is supporting open science, and wants to make science work better for all of us, with ownership and cooperation of scientists themselves. Another interesting contribution came from Peter Fox (Tetherless World constellation / Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). He gave us five considerations:

  1. Work as you’ve succeeded > what would it all look like 10 years from now?
  2. It is not <just> about data
  3. It is about the alliance
  4. Be aware of vertical integration opportunity and needs
  5. The culture around data has to change

Peter told the RDA to be ready, be dynamic, be active, and urged us to bring together Head, Heart and Gut. It is difficult to avoid that I am only blogging quotes that have already been sent around via twitter! I liked e.g. Francine Berman’s remark that it is not just your data, it is other people’s data as well.

Together with Ross Wilkinson and John Wood she forms the RDA Council (to be expanded), where they represent the original founding from US, Australia and Europe. The RDA is being formed, or perhaps a better word would be moulded, by its members into the right shape. Two working groups have been approved so far, i.e., on data type registries and pid information types. The Council emphasized that RDA is about connecting data, people and disciplines. Of course the world consists of more than Australia, US and Europe, so there were also presentations about progress made in the field of research data from Canada, India, South Africa and China.

Upon arrival in Goteborg, we saw these very nice trees and benches.

We could digest real interesting content at the start of the second day. First we had Manfred Laubichler from Arizona State University telling us about the digital HPS (History and Philosophy of Science), http://digitalhps.org. He showed us that it is indeed not only about data, but also about the methods you need to deploy the data. Laubichler gave us an example from the Evolutionary population ecology. We saw that researcher Bradshaw changed his mind when comparing his statement in 1948 with the one in 1965. To understand why that happened you need to understand the scientific context of the whole field. So he concluded that these computational approaches require cyberinfrastructure, open and transparent (big) data and linkable repositories. Philip Bourne (from UCSD, and later in the same week also present at Force 11), taught us some lessons:

  1. It is all about trust (“trust in the data is perhaps our biggest achievement”), so listen to your community & engage them in every part of the process
  2. Data quality begats trust (support for versioning hence the copy of record, all versions accessible)
  3. It is all about people (curators are the unsung heroes)
  4. It is NOT all about institutions. No data standards body has directly influenced PDB, the protein databank
  5. It is about Openness. PDB should be more transparent about data usage .

Further interesting stuff from Bourne was that the thought that data are created are equal must end, that we need to understand how data are used, that reductionism is not a dirty word, that we should do more with the long tail, and should stop looking at funding agencies. And to conclude: “Think about the questions we wish to answer rather than simply being able to retrieve the data.”

The remainder of the launch meeting was perhaps really what is all about – established and perhaps-to-be-established working groups gathered for afternoon sessions on the second day and reported back on this the next day. We can tell at the next (mid-September in Washington) plenary RDA meeting what real actions have been taken up by all these groups, what plans are still valid and where new things are added.

Also for us both at 3TU.datacentre and TU Delft Library we need to work on our ambition and see where we can streamline this with all the RDA initiatives. Will we be able to take part in the yet-to-be-approved engagement working group , the publishing data interest group (with its subgroup on citation of dynamic data), while our DANS colleagues chair the to-be-approved certification working group and more interesting stuff is going in, e.g. in Preservation, or PID information, Terminology, etc ….? What we know for sure is that we cannot do everything, There were three things though that I brought back with me to have some further thoughts about:

  1. Should we (copying Research Data Canada) start a Research Data Netherlands initiative? Where we make sure that there is a voice for the Netherlands in several associations, alliances, working groups and that we think about an efficient workload and division in topics, disciplines?
  2. Would it be an idea (perhaps for the to-be-approved RDA Working Group on Preservation?) to start working on a retention table, so that we take the advice to work on “reductionism” into account?
  3. Is Dataverse Network (which we also will offer to our Delft, Eindhoven and Twente scientists) the thing that is “just as easy” for our scientists to use as Dropbox? Mind you, there is a FileSender option, offered by Surfnet, I am not sure whether we knew about this in Delft!

There was so much more, but I guess I should stop, but not without two more quotes:

  1. Scott Brim: We should  get the horse to drink, the desperate need is there, but it is only clear to us
  2. We could view RDA as green house to let the flowers grow.

 

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