Where do you sit on the data publishing continuum?

Some of the most animated moments at the 2013 TERN Symposium – and there were a few! – occurred during conversations about data publication. These matters are not only close to TERN’s core business, they’re also of rapidly increasing international interest for researchers and managers, so it’s important that we keep these conversations going. It seems the Australian ecosystem science community currently has a range of approaches to data publishing, and this range was neatly conceptualised by two of the speakers at the Symposium, Alan Noble (Engineering Director for Google Australia and New Zealand) and Prof Kris French (President of the Ecological Society of Australia).

Good ecosystem science requires access to quality-assured, accurate and appropriate datasets, along with critical contextual information that explains how the data were collected and for what purpose. While the benefits of data sharing and publication are apparent and becoming broadly accepted across research communities globally, and progress is made every day, there are still technical and cultural barriers that may be preventing groups within the ecosystem science community from publishing and sharing datasets.

During his Symposium dinner speech, Alan highlighted the advantages of open, machine-readable, fully-automated data searching and harvesting, and discussed some of the benefits arising from this approach in areas such as crisis response for natural disasters and a range of humanitarian, social justice and environmental monitoring applications. The barrage of forthright questions this provoked indicated that Alan’s views and Google’s approaches to open data were more towards one end of the continuum of approaches to data publishing.


Alan Noble speaking at the TERN Symposium dinner (photo courtesty of S Long).


In her plenary presentation the following morning, Kris took up a position at a different point on the data publishing continuum. She discussed some of the technical and cultural barriers to data publishing, including the risks for the original collector, especially concerns about the potential for mis-use or misinterpretation of published datasets. The fact that this also had some audience members shaking their heads is a great illustration of the diversity of opinion – even within Australia’s ecosystem science and management communities – about the problems and opportunities posed by the global shift towards increased data sharing and publication.

Many thanks to both Alan and Kris for their appropriately provocative presentations. We all now have the opportunity to ask ourselves where we are placed on the data publishing continuum, and to consider how TERN’s national ecosystem data infrastructure can be used to help all Australian ecosystem scientists and managers, regardless of where they sit on the continuum.

Published in TERN eNewsletter March 2013

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