Communicating Science and Engineering Data in the Information Age

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Of these systems, the Dataverse Network is unique in being designed to explicitly support long-term access and permanent preservation. To this end, the system supports best practices, such as format migration, human-understandable formats and metadata, persistent identifier assignment, and semantic fixity checking. In addition, many threats to long-term access can be fully addressed only by collaborative stewardship of content, and the system supports distributed, policy-based replication of its content across multiple collaborating institutions, to ensure the long-term stewardship of the data against budgetary and other institutional threats see Altman and Crabtree, This enhances the visibility of the data and allows a statistical agency to reach a much broader audience with tools specifically targeted for such audiences.

Its stated aim was to make data available for better public policy. It now contains thousands of data sets and offers static and dynamic visualizations, direct access to data, and generated reports Macdonald, , p.

Communicating Science and Engineering Data in the Information Age

Factual is a data manipulation developed in the commercial sector. It is closed source, runs as a proprietary service, and handles only moderate-sized databases. It extensively supports collaborative data manipulation in such functions as data linking, aggregation, and filtering, and it has extensive mashup support, with Google RESTful and Java JSON APIs for extraction and interrogation of data sets.

It also integrates with Google charts and maps. It is a leading example of collaborative data editing. Factual contains a relatively small collection but has the aim of eventually loading all the Data. Many Eyes is a website that permits users to enter their own data sets and produce tailored visualizations from a stock of sample visualizations on demand Viegas, Many Eyes is largely uncurated, and as a result it hosts over , data sets, the vast majority of which are tiny, undocumented, and with unknown provenance.

In part this is because the goal of the site is not to create a data collection or archive but to make visualization a catalyst for discussion and collective insight about data.

Many Eyes is particularly notable for its prototype work involving accessibility for people with disabilities. In contrast, none of the other visualization tools described provides accessible components or analogs. By employing a processing design that carefully separates data manipulation and data analysis from presentation see, for example, Wilkinson, and deferring visualization to the final stage of the chain of computation, the Many Eyes prototype was able to offer powerful data manipulation and analysis functions that were potentially accessible to a visually impaired audience.

Although this is not yet in production, it shows that data analytics for the visually impaired can go far beyond those typically offered. BuzzData is a relatively new entry to the data sharing offerings in which a community of interest for a data set is formed and each dataset has tabs for tracking versions, visualizations, related articles, attachments, and comments.

The idea is that users using the data will build value to the data set, thereby creating a social network around it Howard, Trends in Data Access Tools and Infrastructure Data dissemination is a rapidly developing area, in which players, technologies, and vocations are changing rapidly. To the contrary, many commercial services in this area have failed, and business models for data sharing remain unclear.

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The availability, usability, and features of third-party systems have raised user expectations for access to data. Increasingly, users are expecting access to data in real time and at a fine level of detail. They want access to data that are machine understandable and that can be imported or mashed up using third-party services. However, many services fail to adhere to good practices. Extremely powerful peta-scale online analysis, interactive statistical disclosure limitation, semantic harmonization, dynamic linking of data across different data sources with different data collection designs, and data analysis and browsing support for the visually impaired remain research problems.

None of the commercial services is designed with preservation or long-term access. Both private-sector and public production services currently available fall short of providing rich access to visually impaired users. Overall, these patterns strongly suggest that NCSES should not adopt a single service or technology for data visualization and sharing, nor should it develop another bespoke system, but instead should make data available in open formats and protocols, and with sufficient documentation and metadata, to enable the easy inclusion of these data in third-party catalogs and services.

It would benefit from exploring mashups a mashup occurs when a web page or application uses and combines data, presentation, or functionality from two or more sources to create new services with ongoing public-sector dissemination tool sets, such as DataWeb, in order to quickly transform its electronic dissemination platforms and refine its participation in government-wide portals see Recommendation FedStats An early, once-ambitious government-side data access service, FedStats has been available online since FedStats is a portal that was designed to be a one-stop gateway through which users can retrieve a full range of official statistical information produced by the federal government without having to know in advance which federal agency produces which particular statistic.

Data can be retrieved by searching by subject matter, program area, or agency. Currently, the tool drives a user who is searching by subject matter topic or press releases to the NCSES website, from whence the search continues using the existing NCSES search and retrieval tools. Searching by agency is a bit problematic—the site had not been updated to incorporate the new name of NCSES as of September NCSES has been a member of this federal government open-government initiative from its beginning in May It is a one-stop website for free access to data produced or held by the federal government, designed to make it easy to find, download, and use, including databases, data feeds, graphics, and other data visualizations.

Vander Mallie reported that, at its inception in , Data. At the time of the workshop, the program supported 2, raw data sets and tools, which are accessed through raw data and tool catalogues. The number of raw data sets and geographic data sets claimed on the Data. This increase is primarily the result of linking and rebranding the Geospatial One Stop geodata.

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Raw data are defined as machine-readable data at the lowest level of aggregation in structured data sets with multiple purposes. The raw data sets are designed to be mashed up— that is, linked and otherwise put in specific contexts using web programming techniques and technologies. Following the workshop, Socrata, which provides an open government software solution, has introduced a new Data.

At the time this report was being prepared, this software was available only to participating government agencies and was not accessible to the panel. In the future, Vander Mallie said, Data. One continuing objective is to make data available through the application programming interface, permitting the public and developers to directly source their data from Data. Expansion into the Semantic Web, an emerging standardized way of expressing the relationships between web pages so the meaning of hyperlinked information can be understood, is also part of the future plan for Data.

Working toward this goal, Data. In short, the idea is to give agencies a powerful new tool for disseminating their data and a one-stop locale for the public to access them. Efforts also exist to create government-wide or agency-specific data catalogs and dictionaries, which would be published along with the available data sets.

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Suzanne Acar, senior information architect for the U. For agencies like NSF to benefit from the capabilities of Web 2. While this report was being prepared, the future of Data. Nonetheless, the development of Data. The Office of Management and Budget is setting up a number of community-based, topic-specific Data. The initial sites cover information on energy, law, and health.

Overall, the sense of the panel was that Data. These statutes require NCSES to establish protocols and procedures to protect the information the agency collects. In addition, CIPSEA requires that data collected under a pledge of confidentiality be used solely for statistical purposes and thus not be disclosed in identifiable form. This confidentiality protection is afforded to the data in several ways. Some are fairly straightforward, such as deleting identifying information such as name and address from the records. In other cases, however, such straightforward methods may not be adequate.

In those cases, NCSES attempts to develop a public-use file that provides researchers with as much microdata as feasible, given the need to protect respondent confidentiality. These suppressions, however, may render the resulting data of little use to analysts and researchers. When NCSES believes that protection of respondent confidentiality would require such extensive recoding that the resulting file would have little, if any, research utility, the agency has developed a variety of methods to assist individuals in using the data in such a situation.


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In some cases, researchers are able to state their needs for tabulations or other statistics with sufficient specificity that necessary summary information can be provided without the need for access to microdata. For two of these surveys—the Survey of Earned Doctorates and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients—plans are under way to provide authorized researchers with remote access to microdata using the most secure methods to protect confidentiality.

The enclave seeks to implement technological security, statistical protections, legal requirements, and researcher training in one package. This is an expanding and innovative program for the agency, one intended to both protect confidential data and enhance the usability of the data for research and analytical purposes.

This survey is a successor to the Survey of Industrial Research and Development. Although respondent privacy must be protected, the current NCSES approach is neither transparent, nor does it appear systematic. As the recent introduction of the SED Tabulation Engine illustrates, data from the same series survey may be split across different, nonintegrated systems. The private NCSES collection is not made available under a consistent set of terms of use which vary by database , nor a consistent mechanism i. Maximizing research utility requires a regular review of methods, consistent license agreements, and providing data in many forms, including public-use data and restricted data enclaves National Research Council, In addition, the need to provide confidentiality in the present does not eliminate the responsibility to provide for long-term access.

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The risk of reidentification changes as time elapses. As discussed in Chapter 3, all NCSES data, even confidential data, should be stewarded for long-term access and permanent preservation. In an era when users are increasingly being treated to real-time or nearreal-time economic and social information, the lengthy delays in publication of NCSES survey results are not very well understood.

The lack of timeliness is discussed here as a dissemination issue, though, in reality, timeliness problems have to do more with data gathering, statistical methodology, and processing practices, some of which have been addressed in previous National Research Council reports National Research Council, , pp-. It was reported to the panel by the NCSES leadership that there have been initiatives by NCSES over the years to shorten the publication time by reducing reliance on printed reports and to make more use of relatively quick-turnaround formats, such as InfoBriefs.

These have successfully put the major data series in the hands of users more quickly than in the past. However, users still have to wait too long after the reference period to get access to the detailed publication tabulations that are necessary for sophisticated analysis from a major NCSES survey; for example, detailed data from the new Survey of Industrial Research and Development for the years and were released in June , a year after less detailed summaries of data from the BRDIS for were released in May Another source of the timeliness problem stems from the fact that NCSES has largely shifted to electronic dissemination but without systematic machine-understandable metadata and change control.

This means that a great deal of NCSES time still must be spent in painstakingly checking data and formatting the data for print and electronic publication in order to check the accuracy and reliability of the published products. For example, each page of the hard copy must be checked by someone looking at the source data. This effort comes at the expense of ensuring data integrity at the source, and it takes an inordinate amount of scarce staff time. Academic institution of doctorate; baccalaureate-origin institution U. Availability of Microdata Access to restricted microdata can be arranged through a licensing agreement.

Availability of Microdata Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata can be arranged through a licensing agreement. The date available online though the enclave arrangement discussed above. Availability of Microdata Public use data files are available upon request. Several rather significant actions need to be taken in order to capitalize on the new technologies and processes that would facilitate this modernization. These technologies will further increase efficiency, permitting users to access the data interactively and to dynamically integrate it with other information.

For NCSES, the key to being able to take advantage of these technologies is to begin with a sharp focus on modernizing procedures for collection and ingestion of raw data and information about the data metadata into the data system. This is no simple task because of the likelihood that modernization will call for accommodating infrastructure changes. Whether the existing systems will have the capacity to ingest the metadata and individual record data in formats that support the new technologies is not certain.

In order to take full advantage of many of the emerging data sharing and visualization tools described in Chapter 2, it is important that the incoming data be collected and ingested into the NCSES data processing system in as disaggregated a form as possible. Since the collection, tabulation, and front-end activities are controlled by contractors, NCSES must specify the requirements for data inputs that are compatible with retrieval in open data formats and suitable for retrieval in formats that support common tools that software developers use to process data.

The data must be capable of mashup with other data sources.