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O’Neill Exhibit Explores Mandates Designed To Protect Research Data

This October, the O’Neill exhibit titled “Data Is the New Oil” explains the significance of research data on various levels. The exhibit provides information on the general importance of such research while also raising awareness about the possible dangers that come with losing this digitally-stored “Big Data.”

“We hope to inform anyone with research data, or anyone who works with anyone with research data—and that’s a broad scope—about best practices for protecting data, federal mandates for making data available, and the social justice aspects of open data,” said Enid Karr, the senior research librarian.

The data discussed consist of research findings around the globe as well as locally, here on Boston College’s campus.

“Like other academic research institutions, Boston College is responding to the proliferation of federal and publisher mandates for better data management practice as there is growing recognition of the enormous risk data loss poses,” the exhibit states.

Federal mandates so far include President of the United States Barack Obama’s executive order, which he signed on May 9, 2013. In it, he stated that in the future, all government information would be stored as open, “machine-readable” data, creating a more dynamic governing body. This would also make the United States government’s data significantly more accessible, reinforcing the notion of full transparency.

Obama’s administration has spread this “Open Data Initiative” across various areas of research from financial matters to efforts in the medical field.
“Scientific research supported by the Federal Government catalyzes innovative breakthroughs that drive our economy,” John P. Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House, said to Obama. “The results of that research become the grist for new insights and are assets for progress in areas such as health, energy, the environment, agriculture, and national security.”

Such mandates to store data publicly are not only being pushed by the federal government, but by other funders as well. The two types of funders—government and corporate—are both taking steps to see this transparency movement through. Now, when corporations request the help of researchers, they also require that the researchers provide a “data management plan,” detailing how they will be safely storing their findings in an accessible manner.

The exhibit explains how these data management plans are crucial because they ensure that any progress made by those researchers at the time can be shared with other scientists and analysts internationally. Thus, the information can be looked at by different people, reworked, and built upon—ultimately progressing in any and all fields of research.

According to the exhibit, this public approach to data collection, experimentation, and analysis is the groundwork for a more efficiently evolving world because, it said, social justice issues are one example of a universal need that governments and organizations can address more quickly with the new information being produced as the result of working with communal data.

“Open data serves [sic] the common good and encourages open government and human rights,” the exhibit says. “It aids in resolving social issues such as food security, poverty, and climate change in developing countries.”

The exhibit emphasizes the notion that the more collaboratively researchers can work with their findings, the more quickly they will be able to come up with solutions to the pressing problems humans are facing internationally.

The exhibit goes on to provide some key suggestions for how to conduct one’s own data management. These steps include: backing data up in various places, saving it in repositories, keeping multiple copies in open formats, and creating useful metadata—data that summarize other data.

“Boston College’s institutional repository, [email protected], is an important library service providing a place for researchers here to deposit and archive their data, or serve as a portal to Boston College datasets housed elsewhere,” the exhibit says.


Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor

October 8, 2015