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.


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!


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).”



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.”

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



Getting Resourceful

There is no doubt that the internet is full of useful tools and tutorials, but as we all know it can be aggravating reading and sifting through countless web pages to find the most valuable resources.  To coincide with my post from last week, I have compiled a list of what IMHO constitute the best of the best!  I hope that these links are useful and allow you to continue to “skill up” and develop into a well-rounded information professional.

First of all some tools to help you unravel the mystery of website design, content management, and ever-changing software

Lynda Online Training Library

This site has hundreds of tutorials on all sorts of software as well as photography and videography.  Many academic institutions, including FSU, offer staff and students access to these tutorials free of charge.  If you aren’t so lucky you can sign up for a month long free trial and if you find the tutorials useful, you can subscribe for $25/a month.  Definiely worth pokking around!

They also have about 10% of their content on YouTube for free

Free Drupal Training

Very comprehensive 4 week course!

Receive a new Drupal lesson each week in your inbox!

Fedora and Dspace

Extensive Wiki maintained by DuraSpace


Awesome free site that offers training on JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Python, and Ruby.  An invaluable resource!!/exercises/0

Next up, ways to improve your teaching, e-learning resources, and social media platforms

Instructional Design

Some good reading…


First a little background information…

Lots of great online tools for educators and ideas on how to incorporate them into instruction sessions

A short list of E-learning tools from the University of Oregon Libraries

Finally every year the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies puts out a list of the Top 100 tools for learning.  This is a great and succinct slideshow!

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.

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

Examples of user generated data visualization

Useful information on accessing World Bank 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!

Crowdfund This!

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague on a science and technology librarianship list serv that I subscribe to asking an interesting question, “has anyone done any research on or has had success with landing funding for library tech projects via crowd funding or know of scholars who used crowd funding to raise funds for research.”  This struck me as a question that deserved a little more research and discussion as enthusiasm for crowd funding projects has seen a marked increase over the last year.  As federal funding is becoming increasingly harder to come by, and is often reserved for those with both large scale projects as well as already established careers, it makes sense that researchers would be perusing alternate funding avenues. 

Two of the most popular and well known crowd funding sites are Kickstarter and Indiegogo, though these are geared more towards projects in the arts they also have proven successful in funding some small scientific research projects as well such as this one.  A recent campaign on Indiegogo raised 1.3 million dollars to purchase Nikola Tesla‘s laboratory in New York and convert it into a science center/museum.  The success of these crowd funding initiatives has led to the development of several sites devoted solely to crowd sourcing funding for scientific research, including:

Iamscientist which is “designed to appeal to university professors and researchers who can invest a few hundred dollars into engineering, life science, and biotech”, and offers the opportunity to fund projects such as Diamondback Terrapin research and “Robotic hand Rehabilitation for Stroke Victims”.     This is a very new site and as of yet only has about 10 projects launched so far.  It is hard to see how this site will distinguish itself from some of the more established sites.  Read more at

Petridish offers an opportunity to, “fund science and explore the world with renowned researchers.” Projects range from tracking the diversity of biofoulers in Florida to a study on bird cooperation in the rainforests of Ecuador.  Petridish’s founder Matt Salzberg offers this rationale for Petridish’s advantages over other science based crowdfunding sites. “There are a few things that make us different. First, we’ve focused on building a high quality, fun web experience for contributors. Aside from our focus on design, we hand select only the most interesting and impactful projects to feature on our site, including those with great videos, pictures and rewards. Many of the existing sites focus exclusively on the experience for the scientist raising money– we cater to both sides of the marketplace.  Second, we only do “all or nothing” funding. We do this because it protects the scientist from having to do a project without sufficient funding and it protects contributors who wouldn’t want to donate to a project that doesn’t have enough funding to go through. It also encourages people to really pull together to promote a project, since a project won’t happen without enlisting the support of others as well.”  They also offer some helpful tips for would be fund raisers.

Sciflies is a site sponsored by the University of South Florida and coincidentally the most funded project happens to belong to a friend of mine who studies Red Grouper behavior in Florida.  Unlike the previous two sites, Sciflies is not for profit and takes no commission on funded projects.   They also offer some well-thought out commentary on crowd funding scientific research.

  • Micro-donations will make hundreds of research projects possible, projects that otherwise would have to wait for funding or not be funded at all.
  • Research projects that are limited in scope and time and for which small dollars are required, will be made possible through SciFlies funding
  • Researchers will gain more visibility, connect with a wider audience of donors and enhance public knowledge of their work
  • Funds from SciFlies donors can speed the process of investigation and lead to faster scientific breakthroughs
  • The general public has an easy and cost-effective way to advance scientific research that personally appeals to them. People can be more engaged with ground-breaking research, by learning about and funding a scientist and his/her work.
  • 100% of each donation goes to the research institution.

-The Open Source Science Project, is “a powerful platform for academic researchers seeking to develop, finance, and conduct basic research projects”, and functions as a dual fundraising and networking platform for researchers.  However, this platform is currently only available to select partner institutions and seems to have stalled in terms of growth.

SciFund Challenge is sponsored by RocketHub, another crowd funding platform, and I have to say one of my favorite approaches to crowd funding science.  This year will mark the 3rd annual Sci Fund Challenge and there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm behind this project.  Last year’s challenge raised $100,000 and saw a significant increase in momentum from the year before as seen below.

Round Days Projects Projects funded Percent funded Total raised
1 45 49 10 20.4% $76,230
2 31 75 33 44.0% $100,345


This is an interesting presentation by SciFund’s co-founders Jai Ranganathan and  Jarrett Byrnes on the future of crowd funding for academic research.

So is this the future of science?  Hard to say.  Borya Shakhnovich, the founder of Iamscientist, says that,” the major challenge with crowd funding has been to translate esoteric research into a language that the general public can understand. It has been a strain on time and resources.”  There is also the opinion that by allowing the general public to fund scientific research, only the biggest and splashiest campaigns will be funded.  It’s a lot easier to generate public interest in cute and cuddly animals than polymers and sedimentary rocks!  Most of these sites are not subject to peer review as well which is cause for concern and some researchers fear that this can, “make them lose legitimacy in the eyes of their peers.”  In the end though the fact remains that it is very difficult for researchers to fund their projects through traditional means and any avenue that provides an outlet for further study and scientific empowerment should be encouraged, developed, and carefully watched for future implications.

Further Reading:

Drapeau, M. (2012, 14 March).  Should governments crowd source scientific research funding? Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

Ecklund E, James S, & Lincoln A.  (2012).  How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach. PLoS ONE, 7(5). Retrieved from:

Giles, J. (2012, 18 January). Finding philanthropy: Like it? Pay for it.  Nature. Retrieved from:

Hickey, H. (2012, 9 August). Crowd funding on campus: UW scientists raise money for reasarch online. UW Today. Retrieved from:

Ranganathan, J. (2012, 23 May). Crowd-funding for research dollars: a cure for science’s ills? Scientific American. Retrieved from: