Radicalism and data

Added by Stephane Goldstein on 03 December 2008 03:49

Greetings from Edinburgh, where I’m attenting the 4th International Digital Curation Conference. A very stimulating and well-organised event and, at the end of the first day, I was struck in particular by a number of presentations around the broad theme of radical data sharing as a means of transforming science.

This is ambitious stuff, and examples were set out to describe environments and/or tools geared to encouraging and promoting the imaginative sharing and curating of research data, in plant biology (iPlant Collaborative), neurophysiology (CARMEN project) and open notebook science. Cameron  Neylon, in his persuasive case for open notebook science, stressed how he felt such services could ultimately promote innovation by curating the relationships between digital objects (and not just the objects themselves), and hence drive citation levels. The challenge, of course, is to persuade researchers that there is much to gain from  taking advantage of these developing opportunities. Appealing to their self-interest is one way of doing it, but - as highlighted later in the day by John Willbank, from Science Commons, there are well-entrenched control mechanisms (legal, cultural, financial) that work against change. I might add that the competitive nature of the research funding process, which contributes to the fostering of protective and posessive attitudes to data outputs, doesn’t necessarily help. Would it be controversial to suggest an investigation of the relationship between research competition and reluctance to share? Of course, we’d be getting into political territory here…

My feeling is that the key to more effective data sharing and curation is to demonstrate, as far as possible, that it yields benefits (and not least economic benefits) to researchers, their funders and their employers. To build on Cameron’s contention, it would be nice to show the extent to which openness does indeed encourage innovation. Another area to investigate perhaps?

Edinburgh is a fabulous place, and since I’m sitting here late at night extolling the virtues of the capital of Scotland, I’ll use the opportunity to recommend a rather nice and very smooth Cambeltown single malt by the name of Springbank, which helped me to compose this particular blog entry.

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