07 May 2014

Public research, open data

RAL hosted a meeting for research councils, other public bodies, and industry participants, on open data, organised with the Big Innovation Centre (we will have a link once the presentations have been uploaded).

As you know, research councils in the UK have data policies which say

  • Publicly funded data must be made public
  • Data can be embargoed - even if publicly funded, it will be protected for a period of time, to enable you to get your results, write your papers, achieve world domination. You know, usual stuff.
  • Data should be usable.
  • The people who produced the data should be credited for the work - in other words, the data should be cited, as you would cite a publication with results that you use or refer to.
All of these are quite challenging (of this more anon), but interestingly some of the other data publishers had to even train (external) people to use their data. Would you say data is open not just when it is usable, but also actually being used? Certainly makes the policies even more challenging. The next step beyond that would be that the data actually has a measurable economic impact.

You might ask: so what use is the high energy physics (HEP) data, older data, or LHC data such as that held by GridPP, to the general public?  But that is the wrong question, because you don't know what use it is till someone's got it and looked at it. If we can't see an application of the data today - someone else might see it, or we might see one tomorrow.  And the applications of HEP tend to come after some time: when neutrons were discovered, no one knew what they were good for; today they are used in almost all areas of science. Accelerators used in the early days of physics have led to the ones we use today in physics, but also to the ones used in healthcare. What good will come of the LHC data?  Who knows. HEP has the potential to have a huge impact - if you're patient...