iASSIST: Data Reuse Modelling

iASSIST has been a whirlwind of sessions and snacks and quick chats with data enthusiasts from many corners of the earth.

One of my favorite talks was done by two doctoral students from the iSchool at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Nic Weber and Tiffany Chao.  Their exploratory presentation, “A Multidisciplinary Analysis of Data Reuse Activities,” looked at difficulties in tracking the reuse of research data across disciplines.

This difficulty exists for a number of reasons. It had not occurred to me (and why would it? Has it ever to you?) that different fields of research would have different patterns, habits, and agreements surrounding data reuse.  But of course this makes sense:  for instance, Weber pointed out that the astounding cost of collecting astronomy data changes the dynamic of reuse. He didn’t elaborate, but I imagine this could have one of two effects: either researchers guard everything closely, as a drug company might, or they disseminate it freely, recognizing how few people have access to their tools.

With this in mind, it’s easy to think of other kinds of costs: while human beings are much cheaper to gather and examine than stars, there’s a  ‘cost’ associated with testing on human subjects (in the form of fairly rigorous ethics controls), and this will certainly influence the way gathered data is stored, accessed, and shared.

Given these differences, as well as differences in terminology, data types, and publication practices across disciplines, is there an identifiable alignment of activities that leads to successful data reuse? Weber and Chao are interested in modelling this. ‘Successful reuse’ wasn’t really defined, but I think it would probably be something along the lines of: properly archived, properly studies (i.e. all appropriate contextual information is present), properly cited, and then properly linked to other instances of use.

Achieving all of this will mean better standards of archiving and citations: other topics much discussed at iASSIST 2011, and which I hope to blather on about next week!

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