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Climate data to be opened up

Wed, 28 Jul 2010

Climate scientists at the University of East Anglia will soon be demonstrating new methods of providing open access to research data - thanks to a major new investment from JISC to improve the way UK university researchers manage their data.

Dr Simon Hodson, programme manager at JISC, said: "Climate scientists have been under the spotlight recently: there have been technical and cultural challenges to making data and methods openly available, and a perception of failure to do so has been taken by critics of mainstream climate science as an indication of unsound science.

"Clearly, confidence in research findings - among scientists and the general public - depends upon the underpinning data and methods being open, reusable and verifiable. What is more, researchers aren't just producers of data; they are also consumers, so by funding projects which will improve practice and will give climate scientists and others better guidance on research data management JISC aims to help them make that data more usable and valuable," he added.

Three independent reviews focused on hacked emails from climate scientists at UEA. The reviews found that the CRU researchers' scientific rigour and honesty was not in doubt, but the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee said that climate scientists should take even more steps to make available all their supporting data - right down to the computer codes they use - in order that research findings should be properly verifiable.

The Climatic Research Unit at UEA, in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) e-Science Centre, is now embarking on a JISC-funded project that will address this recommendation. The centre provides computing, data storage and networking infrastructure for today's advanced science facilities. Building on previous work between the two organisations, the project will examine how best to expose climate data for re-use, make it easier for researchers to cite the data and also to understand its validity. The results will be used by the British Atmospheric Data Centre, who already provide access to a significant proportion of the climate data output of the UK research community.

Professor Trevor Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research Enterprise and Engagement at UEA, commented: "Climate research data now plays a pivotal role in understanding our planet and shaping the political response to change. We are already one of the major providers of climate data in the UK, but want to go further. The results of this project will provide an exemplar to climate researchers across the academic and government sectors as they seek to respond to demands for even more open access to data. We are very pleased that JISC has recognised this need, and we look forward to our collaboration with the STFC e-Science Centre."

STFC's Dr Andrew Woolf remarked: "This JISC programme comes at an exciting time as technical innovations in web science converge with an expectation of greater access to publicly-funded data. We look forward to working with UEA to apply these emerging developments to the challenges of climate research, providing standardised access to processed data, linked both to raw observations and meaningful descriptions of intermediate processing."

The UEA team, led by Dr Tim Osborn, is one of eight departments around the country who will be working towards models of better data management practice and making data more openly available for reuse by universities and other interested parties.

Other universities involved in this innovative research are the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Southampton and King's College London; the subject areas covered include materials science, freshwater biology, epidemiology and data intensive modelling to predict disease. All the projects are exploring ways of making data and the code used for computer assisted analysis more openly available, in some cases by linking them to publications.

Dr Hodson concluded: "Climate science is by no means unique in the need for researchers to analyse complex data from a number of different sources. The aim of this investment is to improve the way research data is managed in UK universities. By showing how research data can be made more open, this JISC-funded programme will help achieve proper recognition for the essential place of data creation and management in the research process."

Find out more about the research data management programme.