Out of the pool and into the ocean

“…if scientists could communicate more in their own voices-in a familiar tone, with a less specialized vocabulary-would a wide range of people understand them better?  Would their work be better understood by the general public, policy-makers, funders, and, even in some cases, other scientists?” -Alan Alda

I love science.

I have spent many years teaching science and I feel like I have a pretty broad understanding of most scientific concepts.

However, last week I attended a 3 day meeting with a variety of respected researchers who are studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, and I was struck by how little of the presentations and panel discussions I was able to absorb, especially when it came to the more abstract nature of their work.  If I, a person with a marked interest and a science background, was struggling for comprehension, what must it be like for the general public?

Now of course the audience at this meeting was made up of people who were in the know and didn’t need their science “dumbed down” if you will, but the language seldom changes when efforts are made to communicate with those outside the scientific sphere.  Science communication and outreach are fast becoming important facets of research and are starting to become tied to funding in big ways.  As the looming sequester has the potential to shrink federal support for research and development (R&D) by US$57.5 billion over the next five years (Nature), it is imperative that scientists work to build a case for the relevance of their work and that means targeting those who do not necessarily speak the same language that they do, namely taxpayers and policymakers!

Where do information professionals come into play in all this? Well, our work is intricately tied together with the researchers and academics that we serve.  Their cause is our cause and our background in outreach, communication, and research can be a valuable tool in making scientific research more accessible and relatable.

Science Communication Table

Source: Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, from the October 2011 issue of Physics Today, page 48:

Some Helpful Resources

-A self-directed course on scientific communication from Nature


-Similar resource from the American Association for the Advancement of Science


The Journal of Science Communication


-Presentations from the National Academy of Sciences Colloquium “The Science of Science Communication”


-Science communication competitions!


National Science Communication Institute




This is a great presentation on social media for scientists.



Humanizing Big Data


“We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand.”


This quote, from Associated Press Editor-At-Large Ted Anthony, could be about librarians or even a treatise on human nature in general.  Instead it is used to describe an ambitious multifaceted project from prolific photographer Rick Smolan, who is best known for his work on the “Day in the Life” series of photo collections.  The Human Face of Big Data, which was released on December 4th and will soon be followed by a documentary, captures in photos and short articles the essence of big data real-world and personal applications.

In the book, big data is defined as the real time collection, analyses, and visualization of vast amounts of the information.  “In the hands of data scientists this raw information is fueling a revolution which many people believe may have as big an impact on humanity going forward as the Internet has over the past two decades. Its enable us to sense, measure, and understand aspects of our existence in ways never before possible.”  Amazon.   The following interview with the author provides some great background information.

In addition to the book, a free mobile app has been launched, “to help you learn about yourself, how you compare to others, and what your phone can tell you about your life.  Compare answers about yourself, your family, trust, sleep, sex, dating, and dreams with millions of others around the world.  Find your Data Doppelganger. Map your daily footprint, share what brings you luck, and get a glimpse into the one thing people want to experience during their lifetime.”http://humanfaceofbigdata.com/about/

In less than two months, more than 3 million share and compare questions have been answered, in more than 100 countries.  Through the app some interesting data insights have been extrapolated.  Check them out!


This is a cool project and I look forward to watching the documentary when it comes out.  In addition, the results of a worldwide, user submitted video contest will be coming out shortly which will undoubtedly provide us with some awesome snapshots of the “Human Face of Big Data”.



Just as a side note this article on, “5 Trends That Will Shape Digital Services In 2013” was pretty interesting and relevant!


Happy Holidays Citizen Scientists!


Everyone knows that birders, or nerders as I like to call them, are a dedicated bunch, willing to spend hours in one spot waiting for a sighting of an elusive species.  For those of us with self-diagnosed ADD, that seems like a true test of fortitude!  Birders play in an important role in the scientific community and each year act as citizen scientists, collecting invaluable data that helps to further research and fuel conservation efforts.  These efforts are mobilized each year during the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

CBC Santa

The 113th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place Dec 14, 2012 to January 5, 2013.  The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends.  Data from the over 2,000 circles are entered after the count and become available to query here.

112th chirstmas bird count

The first year,in 1900, 27 birders participated, counting in 25 North American locations.  Last year, more than 63,000 volunteers in more than 2,200 locations took part.  Counts were held in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

1936 chirstmas count

The original counters tallied about 90 species. Last year volunteers recorded nearly 2,300 species among more than 60 million birds.

Audubon’s chief scientist Gary Langham points out that the counts’ purpose goes beyond tallying birds.

“Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior and the EPA,” he said.


From all accounts it’s also a lot of fun!  Find a circle near you…

One More Tool for your Kit

Have you grown weary of sifting through the countless bits of information about how to manage research data? Well, not to worry because, SURA (Southeastern Universities Research Association) has recently launched an institutional tool for Research Data Management (RDM), developed by a working group formed with the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL).  The working group brings together CIOs and library professionals from SURA member institutions to explore collaborations for improving their ability to manage the rapidly growing volume of research data.

The 5 page document, entitled the “Step-By-Step Guide to Data Management” is succinct, to the point, and provides links to all relevant outside sources.  The document was developed as a result of a survey of SURA membership to identify goals and projects for improving the management of institutional data.  The authors took their inspiration from the DataONE Best Practices Primer  and while it breaks no new ground, it does provide a clear and easy to digest picture of current trends and best practices in data management at universities.  To truly ensure the accessibility of data it is important to reach a consensus on best practices and methods for optimum accessibility in the future.

Of course it comes as no surprise that the university library is highlighted as resource not to be overlooked. As one fellow blogger put it, “while this may not come as a shock from a group that is half comprised of Research Library professionals, towering or expansive university libraries often have a significant amount of data to handle. Creating a database that can be searched hundreds of different ways of the myriad titles that exist is no small data feat.”  The argument can be made, and has been multiple times, that libraries are uniquely suited to play a pivotal role in the research data management process.  Now we have one more resource to offer our patrons to assist them in managing all that sexy data.

Deepwater Horizon, Research, and the Future of Data Management

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion was in every way a tragedy, resulting in the loss of life for 11 crewmen and causing the largest offshore oil spill in US history.  The clean up efforts are ongoing as is litigation against BP and Transocean, the contractor in charge of Deepwater Horizon.  If there is any silver lining to be found in all of this it is that BP has given $500 million dollars to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) for the purposes of conducting research on the long term effects to the ecosystem from the 4.4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the ocean in the Spring and Summer of 2010.

The Gulf of Mexico has been relatively unexplored in comparison to other regions.  In the 20 years before the oil spill, the Great Lakes received more than $1 billion, while the Chesapeake Bay got just shy of half a billion.  Spending for the same time period on the much-larger Gulf of Mexico: $85 million.

“It’s the hardest working of our ocean basins, but it’s the most underfunded in terms of research monitoring and science,” said Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald.  It’s safe to say that $500 million will go along way in bridging this research gap.  There are many challenges however in attempting to make conclusions on the long-term effects of the oil spill because there is not a lot of existing data on the Gulf of Mexico to compare results with and determine long-term ecological consequences.

The collection and management of data gathered through the efforts of GoMRI funded projects is vitally important to research in this area as well as a model for collaborative research projects of the future.  Unlike some federal funding agencies, who can be vague in their requirements for a data management plan and offer little in the way of training and support, GoMRI has an entire division devoted to data management,The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) and many of the consortia who have been funded by GoMRI are following suit.  The mission of the GRIIDC is, “to ensure a data and information legacy that promotes continual scientific discovery and public awareness of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.”

Having a data management team embedded within a project both takes the pressure off of the researcher, in terms of navigating the somewhat complex territory of DMP’s and long-term management, and ensures that data will be accessible and easy to extrapolate for years to come.  It also promotes collaboration and a holistic approach to scientific research.    This is a model that should be considered for future use , especially in terms of large-scale inter-disciplinary projects such as those funded by GoMRI.


RDAP Summitt 2013

This coming April will bring with it the 4th annual RDAP Summit in Baltimore, MD.  Research data access and preservation is an increasingly important issue in academic communities and this summit is an excellent opportunity to glean knowledge from some of the experts in the field and to build relationships with like-minded institutions.

The impetus for an annual RDAP summit was born out of the, “recognition of the value of scientific data management”, and the need to share ideas and best practices amongst the information science community.  The summit was organized as, “an effort to bring together leaders in data centers, laboratories, and libraries in different organizational and disciplinary settings to share ideas and techniques for managing, preserving, and sharing large-scale research data repositories.” (ASIS&T).

2013’s summit is being organized around 5 main themes:

  1. Institutional approaches/IRs and domain repositories
  2. Data citation and altmetrics
  3. Global scientific data infrastructure
  4. Linked data and metadata
  5. Data use and reuse–sharing and open data success stories

Proposals are currently being accepted for panel presentations, the interactive poster session, and lightning talks.  Please consider sharing your knowledge and insight with those of us who are interested in all things RDAP!

The presentations from last year have been compiled into a great YouTube Channel, so check them out!

You can also view the slideshows from the various presentations here.

Keep up with RDAP13 news by joining the Listserv, following on Twitter or visiting the Facebook page.

Hope to see you there!