Big data, big science, common infrastructures: e-IRG, think-tank of European eScience service providers, speaks out

Today, not only science service providers talk about big data. Back in 2010, the e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG) issued a Blue Paper stressing that researchers are increasingly required to share data and process it in collaboration with others. This requires a common data infrastructure containing, in particular, reusable tools that function according to common standards.

Who is behind the abbreviation e-IRG? Sixty experts from research ministries and scientific infrastructure facilities, including the Oxford e-Research Centre, the Dutch SURF Foundation and the Head of the Regional Computing Centre for Lower Saxony (RRZN) in Hannover, have been meeting regularly for the past ten years to speak with one voice as digital science service providers. In its annual White Papers, e-IRG concisely presents current developments. From these White Papers, they derive how policies should be changed in order to promote and support scientific infrastructure.

There have been a number of developments since the publication of the 2010 Blue Paper. Many scientists have long since started to use commercial tools that are mainly geared towards non-academic users, e.g. Dropbox, as an element of their research infrastructure, which they share with other colleagues. The issue of such developments is broached in detail in the 2013 White Paper, which was published last week. In the section on Open Science (ibid., p. 10 ff), for which Anne DecrouchelleFrançoise GenovaGabriele von Voigt, Jan Wiebelitz and I were responsible, we respond to the challenges and make specific recommendations, including:

  • “To guarantee the long term perspectives of Open Access and Open Data, project based funding must be changed into financial models with adequate business models and legal constructs.
  • Facilitate access for citizen researchers to e-infrastructures, provide training and education capabilities to these people, and encourage the participation in science and research.
  • To make Open Science a European Common and the natural way science is done in Europe, a cultural change must take place. e-Infrastructures can provide the technical instruments to conduct science in an open way that science and economy will benefit. (…)
  • The scientific community, as the information provider, has to put in place mechanisms allowing shared data to be properly described, in particular by developing a special trained body of ‘data scientists’ with the relevant disciplinary knowledge. These functions are different from the generic expertise of librarians, and have to be recognized.
  • Data publication and sharing have to be fully recognized as a part of scientific activities, and taken into account in the evaluation of individual scientists, teams and laboratories. Criteria for this evaluation (quality, impact, etc.) have to be established. (…)
  • EC (the European Commission; remark by LH) and national funding agencies should encourage scientists to publish their data in Open Data repositories.
  • EC and national governments should stimulate the development and promote the use of systematic reward and recognition mechanisms for data sharing, such as citation mechanisms and measurements of the data citation impact.”

Here is the quintessence of the section, paraphrased in my words:

The shift in culture towards collaborative digital science is not only on the verge of happening – it is also desirable. How can this shift be supported? ─ It should be worthwhile in many respects for individual researchers to share their research results. This new culture is independent of a specific technical infrastructure, and yet a mixed, interoperable infrastructure is desirable in order to encourage it. Data infrastructures in this area should receive long-term funding (i.e. not just on a project basis). And in order to fully exploit the potential of such infrastructure, researchers simply need greater digital know-how. In addition to librarians, we will need professional data specialists who also possess specialist data skills.

Bibliothekar. 🤓
Leitung Open Science Lab der TIB.
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Head of Open Science Lab at TIB.
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