Home PublicationsCommentary Research Data Alliance tackles the ”rising tide” of scientific data

Research Data Alliance tackles the ”rising tide” of scientific data

by Travis Korte
The Library of Congress

Science|Business, a Brussels- and London-based media company, convened a forum at the Library of Congress on July 17 entitled “The Next Internet Frontier: Managing the Rising Tide of Scientific Data” to discuss the Research Data Alliance (RDA), a new international scientific data-sharing initiative designed to overcome the fragmented nature of research data. In particular, panelists focused on the need to improve data literacy, standardize data formats through trade agreements, and educate policymakers about the benefits of data science.

The panelists were Prof. Francine Berman, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Malcolm Harbour, Chair of Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee in the European Parliament; U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), ranking member, House Subcommittee on Research; Ross Wilkinson, Executive Director, Australian National Data Services; and Lawrence W. Lannom, Vice President, (US) Corporation for National Research Initiatives. The event was moderated by John Wood, Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Prof. Berman introduced the Research Data Alliance and its constituent working groups, which will convene twice yearly in an attempt to facilitate research data sharing across international borders through policy recommendations and best practices to promote interoperability.

Rep. Lipinski stressed the U.S. role in leading by example with regard to research data. He noted that the House Subcommittee on Research, which oversees the activities of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has already convened meetings on the policy implications of “big data,” and has played a vital role in mandating data management plans in NSF research proposals.

Several of the panelists stressed the role of education in developing an interdisciplinary, data-literate workforce to meet the demands of a data-driven economy. Lannom referred to data literacy as “infrastructure” essential to specific data-related objectives. Wilkinson opined that data literacy was the “hardest problem” facing the international deployment of data initiatives and wondered if some multinational collaboration might be necessary to advance it.

The ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations were the subject of some discussion as well, with Harbour, Lennom and Wilkinson all stressing TTIP’s role in the imperative of standardizing data formats internationally. Speakers also urged TTIP participants to promote forward-thinking data stewardship and archiving practices.

Another recurring theme was the need to inform citizens as well as government officials about the stakes of widespread scientific data sharing, both to spur an international conversation about how to address personally identifiable information as well as to shed the negative connotation that has begun to be associated with the term “big data” in some circles. Wood addressed this problem by noting that there were “too few engineers in politics.”

Given the rapid growth in data across many scientific disciplines, the NSF-supported RDA will likely emerge as an important effort to build and collaborate on global research datasets.

The RDA’s second plenary meeting will be held September 16-18, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Pictured, the U.S. Library of Congress.

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