I was not fully aware of how close I was to the EU’s vision of the future research investment when I imagined Open Access on newly discovered exoplanet. It is possible that Earth could hold such possibilities, as well. Recently, The High-Level Group, composed of twelve top-level European experts in different fields of science has released a document “Riding the Wave: How Europe Can Gain from the Rising Tide of Scientific Data” which is a result of six months of intense brainstorming and consultations with experts around the world to prepare a “Vision 2030” for Scientific Data e-Infrastructures. After meetings and consultations from December 2009 through June 2010, the group presents its outlook and recommendations:
▪ policies and actions which should maximize the benefit of the digital revolution for all
▪ connecting of researchers, scholars, educators and students through high speed research networks
▪ best ways to make use of data without wasting money on reproduction of the same
▪ training of the students in the future, or how the profession of “data scientist” will be developed
▪ long term scenarios and associated challenges regarding scientific data access
▪ curation and preservation of data
▪ the strategy and actions necessary to realize the vision
Open E-Infrastructure – Obstacles, Wishlists and Eyes Wide Open
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are recognized as the most recent transformational factors in science with e-infrastructures becoming an essential foundation of all research and innovation. Access to unprecedented volumes of scientific information is now possible. The group agrees that to collect, curate, preserve and make available ever-increasing amounts of scientific data, new types of infrastructures will be needed; those which support seamless access, use, re-use, and trust of data. “The emerging infrastructure for scientific data must be flexible but reliable, secure yet open, local and global, affordable yet high-performance,” they say and on this last they call upon the European Council to expand the funding possibilities.
They admit that creating a scientific world based on e-infrastructures will not be easy. “For starters, it is technically difficult. The scale and complexity of this global scientific asset – with all its sensors, instruments, workstations and networks – are truly massive.” Some questions still remain to be answered:
• How will we preserve the data?
• How will we protect the integrity of the data?
• How will we convey the context and provenance of the data?
• How will we pay for all this?
• How will we protect the privacy of individuals linked to the data?
The focus of the paper and the group is on scientific data and emerging field of data scientists, since the information so abundant starts to change the very nature of research as explained in an example from the document:
“By August 2009, digital records on more than 250 billion DNA bases, from various species, were stored in the US government’s public GenBank database and an entirely new discipline of science had emerged: systems biology. This uses computers to simulate, at the sub-molecular level, exactly how DNA, proteins and the other chemical components of life interact – and in time, it will transform the practice of health sciences.”
The group proposes possible solutions and they even came up with a wish list for the new scientific e-infrastructure claiming that: “If this be dreaming, it is done with eyes wide open.”
The data must be available to whomever, whenever and wherever needed, yet still be protected if necessary by a range of constraints including by-attribution licenses, commercial license, time embargos, or institutional affiliation. The group proclaims that “the creation of scientific e-infrastructure is a means, not an end. It is a means to new science, new solutions and new progress in society. We cannot predict what the world will be like in 2030, but we can state some broad principles of what it should be like if scientific e-infrastructure is by then the major contributor to society, the economy and science that we expect it to be.“