FROM NILS HANWAHR IN THE SCIENCE POLICY CENTRE

During the latest evidence session for the Science as a Public Enterprise project, we had the opportunity to speak to some leading experts working on open data in the fields of astronomy, meteorology, and e-Research. Dr. Anthony Holloway, Dr. Sarah Jackson, and Professor Anne Trefethen kindly agreed to share some of their insights on camera – take a look at the video-clip of Anne’s contribution below or read what she had to say.

Professor Anne Trefethen is Director of the Oxford e-Research Centre that develops tools for data sharing and data management for scientists and universities.

Professor Trefethen emphasised that there are costs and benefits of sharing open data. Open data sharing promises more time to work on the analysis of data rather than the generation of data. Data sharing also encourages citizen science and gives the public an opportunity to better understand what it is scientists are doing.

However, we do not always fully understand the costs of open data and the infrastructure required to make it work. Metadata provides context and instructions on what to do with data and is very important in data sharing, especially in research based on models.

Data also needs to be curated and made accessible by qualified specialists, so-called data curators. Data curators are the digital librarians of the future. Librarians have been organizing and classifying knowledge for centuries and their knowledge on curation is very valuable in sharing data.

Data curation is a challenging job: a digital librarian needs to understand the science to be able to judge how to provide metadata that tells users how to use the data. Standards also have to be set concerning what kind of data is worth keeping and how it is shared. This will be different for every scientific discipline.

Professor Trefethen reminds us that there is a cautionary tale: the benefits of data sharing have to be balanced with the costs and extra effort it takes to make open data work efficiently for the benefit of the public and the scientific community alike.

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