If taxpayers paid for it, they own it

The push for open access in research got a big boost on Friday with the release of a policy memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, which has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.  Whew that was a long sentence!  This is a precursor to the hopefully eventual ratification of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act that was introduced both in the house and the senate on February 14th, 2013.  Check out this Wiki from the Harvard Open Access Project for more information on that and to track the progress of FASTR in congress.

Those of us in the know on this issue, which let’s face it should be all of us in academia, have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time.  And it’s thanks to the continued activism, advocacy, and articulate passion of so many in the academic community that we are at this point today.  If you have a moment, please read this joint letter from ARL, ALA, Creative Commons, PLOS, and many others offering support and a simple, but resonating rationale for the open access of scientific research.

http://www.arl.org/sparc/bm~doc/oawg_thanks_fastr_final-copy.pdf

Peace, Love, and Big Data

In my mind there is no question that big data is the buzzword of 2012.  Everyone from CEO’s to tech geeks are batting the term around like it’s the answer to all of the World’s problems.  A few brave naysayers have said, “Big Data? Big deal…”, but for the most part there is a sense of excitement over what is possible with all of the terabytes of data that are collected daily.  Though much of the energy is business and profit driven, there are also many data scientists who are passionate about using big data for the greater good.  One such start-up, DataKind, is endeavoring to match the skills of data scientists with non-profits who could benefit from their expertise with big data.  To date they have sponsored eight Data Dives in various parts of the country where they match up non-profit social organizations with volunteer data scientists who spend a weekend tackling their data challenges.

DataKind

One such event generated this map of storm surge risk in NYC.  As this was created in September it proved to be prophetic in determining the outcome of Hurricane Sandy the following month!

1358275246721-uploadscreenshot-dot-com

NYC Data Drive

 

DataKind founder Nate Porway, who was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2012, believes that this is a match that has been waiting to happen, “We’re connecting nonprofits, NGOs, and other data-rich social change organizations with data scientists willing to donate their time and knowledge to solve social, environmental, and community problems.  Data is like a bucket of crude oil. Potentially great, but only if someone knows how to refine it (data scientists) and someone else has vehicles that will run on it (the social sector).”

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/jake-porway/

 

 

A recent white paper from the World Economic Forum highlights the ways in which big data can have a big impact (I’m learning that people love to find other words to attach big to when they are writing about big data!) on international and social development.

 

This is all well and good but as as blogger Zach Gemignani wrote recently, “All the work of collecting, combining, and modeling data is wasted if not enough attention is paid to how the data is shared. The data needs to be transformed into bite-sized (pre-chewed, even) stories that can easily stick in the brains of your audience.”

http://www.juiceanalytics.com/writing/big-data-intimate-stories-big-impact/

In other words the excitement over big data’s potential for change needs to be combined with practical and usable applications.  Organizations like DataKind, which has started to inspire spin-offs on college campuses across the country, can be instrumental in helping this ideal to become reality.

Some Related Reading!

5 Things That Will Change the Way Nonprofits Work in 2013

Big Data, Big Hype: Big Deal

Links to other great Forbes articles as well!

The Age of Big Data

 

Making Data Accessible to All

In honor of Open Access week, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the work that the World Bank has done in the last several months to make their data freely available.   An Open Access Policy for its research outputs and knowledge products was formally implemented on July 1, 2012 and will continue to be expanded and improved upon over the course of the coming year.

The policy implicitly states that, “The World Bank supports the free online communication and exchange of knowledge as the most effective way of ensuring that the fruits of research, economic and sector work, and development practice are made widely available, read, and built upon. It is therefore committed to open access, which, for authors, enables the widest possible dissemination of their findings and, for readers, increases their ability to discover pertinent information.”

The Open Knowledge Repository, the centerpiece of the policy, is the new home for all of the World Bank’s research outputs and knowledge products. The Repository currently contains works from 2009-2012 (more than 2,100 books and papers) across a wide range of topics and all regions of the world. This includes the World Development Report, and other annual flagship publications, academic books, practitioner volumes, and the Bank’s publicly disclosed country studies and analytical reports. The repository also contains journal articles from 2007-2010 from the two World Bank journals WBRO and WBER.

The repository will be updated regularly with new publications and research products, as well as with content published prior to 2009. Starting in 2013, the repository will also provide links to datasets associated with research. While the vast majority of the works are published in English, over time translated editions will also be added.

Last week the latest effort in the World Bank’s push for transparency and open access was unveiled in the form of Health Stats, a new database featuring information and data on  health, nutrition and population topics.

According to their press release, “Health Stats provides access to more than 250 indicators on health, nutrition and population in 200+ countries, covering topics such as health financing, HIV/AIDS, immunization, health workforce and health facilities use, nutrition, reproductive health, cause of death, non-communicable diseases, and water and sanitation. Users can pull data by country, topic, or indicator, and view the resulting data (and wealth quintiles) in tables, charts or maps, or access pre-made tables for quick query.”

The site draws on a variety of data sources, including administrative statistics and household surveys compiled by the World Bank Group and its client countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Population Division, the United Nations Statistics Division, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

One new feature that I particularly like is the Data Visualization Map, which allows you to animate data to show how indicators have changed over decades.  For example, this is a map of worldwide female life expectancy from the year 2011.

Additional Resources

Updated information and helpful resources

http://blogs.worldbank.org/

Examples of user generated data visualization

http://worldbank.tumblr.com/

Useful information on accessing World Bank data

http://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/your-top-5-questions-about-world-bank-open-data