Unlocking the value of research data

Information technology

With millions of scientists and scholars around the world busily pursuing their research, the accumulation of data is vast and growing. Digital technology facilitates the generation and storage of myriad forms of data generated in the course of research, even beyond anything that might necessarily wind up in a published paper. This material includes text, images, video, audio, graphs, animations, and much more. A recent estimate projected that, through 2020, the volume of data will grow by a factor of 44, from 0.8 zetabytes (or ZB, indicating 1 trillion gigabytes) as of 2009 to some 35 ZB at the end of this decade.

This continuous torrent feeds an ever-expanding, virtual reservoir—one that is not stored uniformly in one place but in various formats in scattered, disparate repositories of varying size across the globe.

Although only a fraction of such data is intended or destined for publication in journals, the potential utility of these separate, disconnected data stores is profound. Any given tidbit of data produced by one researcher might supply a missing puzzle piece to another—even one involved in seemingly unrelated work. The ability to harness such data and apply it in new ways and new directions holds the promise of substantially accelerating research and innovation.

The challenge, of course, lies in taming this great volume of research—in imposing uniformity and quality control, in providing universal access, and in maintaining proprietary rights and due credit for contributing researchers, among many other issues. These matters constitute just part of the changing landscape confronting publishers, funders, and other stakeholders, as research is increasingly disseminated through channels outside the traditional conduit of the peer-reviewed, subscription journal.

In short, the current unavailability of this data constitutes an impediment to the progress of research. The availability and accessibility of the material—properly maintained and curated—is essential for advancing science.

To address these and other evolving issues, Thomson Reuters has convened its Industry Forum, to serve as a platform for leaders in the scientific, technical, and medical (STM) publishing to discuss strategic trends, technological developments, and paradigm shifts in the field of scholarly communications, and to recommend industry initiatives in support of the attendant opportunities. The forum met on April 29 in Washington, DC, to discuss research data and other pressing matters.

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