X Close

LibNet staff news

Home

Menu

Better Science Through Better Data 2018 – Springer Nature in partnership with The Wellcome Trust (Wednesday,14th of November 2018)

Ruth Wainman19 November 2018

This year marked the fifth year that Springer Nature has hosted the annual Better Science through Better Data conference. The proceedings this year were held at the Natural History Museum – an appropriate venue for discussion about open science considering the museum employs around 300 scientists. The talk was kick-started with a welcome from the Head of Data Publishing at Springer Nature – Iain Hrynaszkiewicz – who introduced the key themes for the conference on ‘making data useable’ and creating ‘accessible and reproducible research’. This was swiftly followed by a presentation from Rebecca Boyles advocating the role of the data generalist through a potted life history of her professional journey into science. Data is becoming such a highly valuable resource that it is now even overtaking oil as the world’s most valuable resource. For Boyles, the rise of the data generalist clearly signals a catalyst for change in the sector. Next Maria Teperek from TU Delft turned the discussion towards FAIR data principles and the challenges involved in managing research data.  At TU Delft, part of these challenges are being addressed by the creation of designated data stewards who provide subject-specific support in research data management across the university. Teperek, however, was keen to remind the audience that data stewards are consultants and not police as their main role is to help improve the culture of research. Publishers too have a role to play in helping achieve FAIR principles by enabling researchers to share their data. But still the main obstacle to data management and sharing, at least for Teperek, remain cultural rather than technological.

A series of lightning talks dominated the latter part of the conference. Sophie Adler from UCL gave a talk on how sharing protocols have facilitated the detection of epilepsy lesions. Others highlighted themes such as achieving FAIR data in practice through the development of a web platform (Aliaksandr Yakutovich), the difficulties of gaining consent for data archiving (Jane Seymour) and the pitfalls of achieving open science when the very idea of openness can be called into dispute (Alastair Rae). The lightning talks were followed by further keynote talks from the perspective of those working in publishing and journalism. Magdalena Skipper, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, emphasised the role that publishers play in helping researchers to share their data by pointing to the fact that 60% of Springer Nature journals have now adopted a research data policy. John Burn-Murdoch from the Financial Times turned the audience’s attention towards the visualisation of data by providing some useful tips on how to get the most out of reporting statistical research. For Burn-Murdoch, data visualisation is first and foremost about communication and that perhaps most importantly we should always try to aim for meaningful visualisation. The panel discussion that followed gathered together speakers from different roles across the domain of scientific research including funders, research fellows and professors to discuss the pros and cons of reproducible research. The discussion was facilitated by additional questions from the audience who had the opportunity to post questions as well as to vote for other audience member’s questions online. The panellists ended the day by providing a lively debate about reproducibility by raising questions as to whether all studies need to be reproduced and who gets the glory for it but also what reproducibility actually means.

The slides from the conference will shortly be made available online.

Harnessing FAIR Data Conference – QMUL, 3rd of September 2018

Ruth Wainman6 September 2018

On Monday (3rd of September), I attended the Harnessing FAIR Data conference held at Queen Mary in conjunction with UCL and the Science and Engineering South consortium. The event launched with an opening talk from Prof. Pam Thomas – the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Warwick. Prof. Thomas spoke of her involvement in leading a task force on Open Research Data which will eventually culminate in a final report in early 2018. Whilst the details of the report are yet to be finalised, the talk raised pertinent questions about what will happen to the increasing amounts of openly available research data that the UK universities seek to generate. As one audience member pointed out, there is still a need for specialist software to process this data otherwise it will remain unusable to other researchers in the future. Questions are currently abound as to whether researchers’ data will form part of the REF submission but for the meantime, it will remain more of a gold standard. David Hartland followed by giving an overview of the Jisc funded FAIR data report and confirmed what many in the audience already largely suspected – the difficulties of what adherence to FAIR data principles means in practice.

Another lively talk was given by Dr. Peter Murray-Rust who provided a rallying cry to all researchers to get behind their readers. The fact remains that a vast amount of research can only be accessed via a pay wall. Murray-Rust made the point that closed access data kills especially in countries which do not readily have access to the latest scientific research. Plus, researchers face further problems trying to extract data from articles which continue to be blocked by publishers as a result of access restrictions. Other talks centred more on the individual projects that researchers ranging from doctoral to early career and established are undertaking. Prof. Paul Longley from UCL’s Consumer Data Research Centre provided another interesting discussion about big data analytics. Just think about how much data companies take from our loyalty cards as a way to understand our shopping habits and movements. But how can this be harnessed for the social good? Well, according to Prof. Longley, we might want to use this data to look at people’s mobility around the country. This was later followed by a wide range of researcher lightning talks about their uses of open data. Some disciplines like biology pose more difficulties than others, as Dr. Yannick Wurm from Queen Mary argued, because they are still considered a young data science.

The conference ended with a panel discussion chaired by Robert Kiley of the Wellcome Trust. The panel was interspersed by anecdotes from Dr. Paul Ayris and Prof. Henry Rzepa about their personal experiences of sharing data. Dr. Ayris felt very much that historians continue to be resistant to sharing data. Prof. Henry Rzepa also spoke of his work as a research chemist and how his research later become subject to scrutiny only to discover that there were two ways his results could be interpreted.

All in all, the conference provided enough food for thought about the opportunities and difficulties that lie ahead for making use of researchers’ data in both a FAIR and open way.