[OKFN-AU] Article: Data Wants to be Free

David F. Flanders david.flanders at ands.org.au
Wed Feb 6 03:03:34 UTC 2013

*Data Wants To Be Free*

*by Vanessa Murray, newmatilda.com*
*February 6th 2013*

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, is touring Australia to
promote transparency and openness in research. Vanessa Murray spoke with
experts about the costs and drawbacks of data-sharing

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide, is currently on a
blink-or-you’ll-miss-it speaking tour of Australia.

He’s here to discuss his current concerns: truly global access to the web;
freedom of information and commercial net neutrality; the web’s potential
as a conduit for extremism; and the shift towards a research culture where
data is openly available to all. Of these, it’s perhaps the last — the open
data movement — that is most challenging within the Australian context.

At its simplest, open data is information that is available for anyone to
use, for any purpose, at no cost. The concept has existed since the late
1950s, when the International Council for Science (ISCU) formed the World
Data Centre system to archive and distribute data.

Berners-Lee believes an open data culture will create economic,
environmental, and social value by facilitating the increased creation,
dissemination and cross-pollination of knowledge to address local and
global issues.

In late 2012 he co-founded the London-based, not-for-profit Open Data
Institute (ODI), to catalyse an open data culture. It’s inviting
involvement from anyone interested in open data, hosting hackathons, and
offering innovation vouchers to startups looking to draw on open data.

But it’s the web’s capacity for fast and ubiquitous networking that is
giving the concept some serious traction. The open data movement is
demanding individual researchers and academics get on board with
fundamental cultural and operational changes. It’s asking them to make
their datasets accessible to other researchers and the wider public, and to
publish their raw (unanalysed) and derived (aggregate) data along with
their conclusions.

It’s reshaping the highly competitive publishing and funding models that
drive and inform the way they work, with sometimes hazy — yet far reaching
— implications for notions of ownership, intellectual property, ethics,
standards, security and long term use.

Professor Richard Sinnott is the Director of eResearch at the University of
Melbourne. He and his team are building the $20 million Australian Urban
Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN), a kind of one-stop
e-infrastructure-shop for Australia-wide urban and built environment

"We’ve been tasked with enabling access to a wide range of distributed data
with tools for analysing and visualising it. This includes housing data,
transport data and health data," he told NM, pointing out that while
researchers often know what kind of data they want to draw on for their
research, it’s usually scattered in different databases and formats — and
therefore obtuse and hard to unify.

AURIN is part of a suite of world-leading data storage and collaboration
infrastructure initiatives that have attracted more than $100 million under
the Federal Government’s Super Science Initiative.

Others include the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), the National
eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) and the Research Data
Storage Infrastructure (RDSI) projects. They are taking data that are
unmanaged, disconnected, invisible and single-use and modeling them into
structured collections that are managed, connected, findable and reusable.

The shift has been coming for a while. In 2004, the science ministers of
the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed a
declaration stating that all publicly funded archive data should be made
publicly available. Many Australian researchers agree. In an open letter to
the Australian Research Council (ARC), Alex Holcombe and Matthew Todd of
the University of Sydney encouraged the ARC to make data sharing a
condition of its funding.

"Science (real science, not the summaries in popular books and the media)
is needlessly closed to the outside world," they wrote. "Worse, it is
closed within itself, with every lab its own silo, and little sharing of
data or materials."

They foresee a future in which openly shared data can be mined by computer
algorithms to seek trends and patterns that result in discoveries beyond
the capability of any one lab or research team.

The experience of Dutch schoolteacher and "citizen scientist" Hanny
Voorwerp is a pleasing illustration of open data’s inclusiveness. In 2007,
Voorwerp discovered a mysterious astronomical "blob" while participating in
the Galaxy Zoo project. Voorwerp was included as an author on a resulting
publication, and the blob — which is the subject of further research — was
named after her.

There are multiple potential benefits in opening up data, says Anne Bell,
head librarian at the University of Sydney. These include increased
dissemination and impact of research; increased opportunities for
collaboration; higher data citation; reduction of research duplication;
increased provision of support services to enable management and sharing of
data; improved returns on public investment in research; and enhanced
accountability and public confidence in research, as data is available for
others to validate or challenge.

On the surface, Australia is right up to speed, but making open data happen
in a robust and meaningful way is not without complications. There are a
number of challenges, says Dr Ross Wilkinson of ANDS, which is building the
Australian Research Data Commons:

"Will researchers get credit for their data, in the same way they get value
for a publication? Can they access good data management tools and
techniques? How will they work with others in cooperating over data?"

Then there’s the scale and cost. "Open data is one thing, but the realities
of the scale of data being produced is quite another. Many data holders are
dealing with digital data at an unprecedented scale. How do you harvest
that? How do you manage that? Opening up data is not a one off thing; it
must be maintained, and it’s very expensive," Sinnott comments.

Researchers will have to adapt to a massive cultural shift; they are more
accustomed to keeping their data to themselves in order to retain the
competitive advantage demanded by current funding models. The ARC’s
Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), is a case in point.

The ERA measures and ranks the quality of research by assessing
publications at 39 Australian universities, then funding them accordingly.
It stands to reason that publications about new or untapped data are going
to generate more interest — and subsequent financial reward — than those
flogging old data horses.

Bell says it’s too early to be clear about the future of the relationship
between the ERA and open data, but points out that some journals and
publishing houses are driving the shift towards open data. Innovative
journals are now requiring authors to make data associated with
publications available to readers as a condition of publication.

"The ERA currently measures research publications only," adds Wilkinson.
"But openness of data has a secondary yet important effect: publications
with associated open data are more cited."

Researchers want layers of openness, cautions Sinnott. "Putting it all out
there for everyone to access is not in sync with the research psyche. If a
dataset is truly open, most researchers probably don’t care about it
anymore. They want data that’s new and untapped; they want to be doing
cutting edge research."

Bell is more optimistic: "It needs to be recognised that openness of data
or other publications will not interfere with a researcher’s ability to
publish and gain reward and recognition for their work. Researchers can
continue to publish first, share later."

"There’s no reason research data can’t be included in future research
assessment exercises such as the ERA, enabling researchers to gain
recognition and reward for published data as well as traditional research
outputs such as journal articles."

Original Page: http://newmatilda.com/2013/02/06/data-wants-be-free<http://pocket.co/swecd>

Shared from Pocket <http://getpocket.com/>
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