European scientists make use of increasingly large amounts of data derived from a wide variety of sources. This data, often coming from repositories across Europe, is used not just in checking experimental hypotheses, but also for supporting new hypotheses, novel research and spontaneous inspiration.
A coherent data strategy, though, is needed to ensure that Europe’s research community does not fall behind internationally. Operating without one could significantly impact the competitiveness and cost-effectiveness of European research, according to a new White Paper ‘Strategy for a European Data Infrastructure’ by the Partnership for Advanced Data in Europe (PARADE), whose members represent 23 European computing and research entities.
In the paper, PARADE notes that currently huge amounts of scientific data are stored in isolated local repositories or even on computer desktops. This poses a significant problem, hindering access to the data by other scientists and research institutions.
‘Data can be equated with money that has value only if it is used and circulated,’ state the paper’s authors. ‘As the different currencies can be stored in the globally interrelated bank infrastructures, we need persistent, highly available and compatible data infrastructures where data from various disciplines can be stored and fetched from.’
A number of new research infrastructures are being prepared in Europe, due to the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap first published in autumn 2006 and updated in December 2008. The report states that currently, there are an estimated 150 to 200 research infrastructures of variable size operating in Europe.
The White Paper, though, explains these data repositories are often either geographically restricted or limited to specific disciplines. In their place, it suggests a sustainable, seamlessly integrated, physical data infrastructure on a pan-European scale. This infrastructure would administer best practices and have common tools to serve multiple user communities. Ultimately, compatible data services and facilities can make a significant contribution to realising Europe’s research potential.
‘The challenges associated with data services on a large scale are a global issue,’ write the authors of the paper. ‘Noticeably [in] the USA and Japan, where the importance of data services infrastructure has been understood, multiple government initiatives have been launched. The global collaboration in research infrastructures, for example in particle physics or radio astronomy, shares data between researchers of different countries.’
The paper also proposes a governance structure where user communities, data service providers and funding bodies work closely together. According to the paper, linking stakeholders would enhance collaboration and result in increased synergy in the services offered to different user communities. It will also lead to improved trust among all stakeholders, an issue which PARADE considers to be important..
By meeting the demand for sustainable, multidisciplinary data services, says the White Paper, Europe will have an infrastructure flexible enough to deal with stakeholder requirements and needs of the future.
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