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August 1, 2012

Elsevier on the State of Big Science Data

Datanami Staff

While vendors are in a constant state of competition to provide the next great big data platform, it is interesting to step back and take a worldwide view of research.

Dr. Michiel Kolman, Senior Vice President of Global Academic Relations for Elsevier, delivered a talk at the Elsevier Conference on Big Data, E-Science, and Science Policy which addressed the global state of research and how science, technology, and medical information companies are advancing that research.

The first half of the twelve minute lecture, which was outlined in fours (four trends in research and four contributions from science, technology, and medical information to research), focused on the increasing role that developing nations are playing in the science landscape. “The emerging markets are rapidly growing in their research activity,” says Kolman.

He goes on to note that over the last ten years, China has produced 20% more scientific papers than they had in the previous ten years while India produced 11% more and Brazil produced 13% more. This kind of growth is to be expected. As developing countries grow economically and their access to data and research grows, so should the resulting research.

More importantly, however, Kolman examined data’s relationship with research. “We see that research is increasingly data-intensive,” Kolman starts. “For research articles, and this is very encouraging, it is very important (to gain access to data) and access is very easy.” It is indeed good news that researchers are able to pull up their colleagues’ scholarly articles for easy access. Advanced text-based search engines have come a long way.

Unfortunately, data has yet to catch up. “What is crucial is that data sets, data models, algorithms, programs are all quite important for researchers but they have problems getting access.” It is important to note that Kolman here is discussing research that requires the use of data sets, etc., and not data research itself. The implication, though, is that data research is not reaching the demand of the scientists and professionals who need to use it.

There may be some implied bias here, however. Kolman first speaks about the ease with which journals are found before mentioning the data insufficiencies. Text search was always going to beat out data, especially if the study or survey that is informing Kolman was asking about the two comparatively. Nothing is said, however, of the progress that has been made in data research over the last few years.

Kolman goes on to mention the contributions science information companies are making toward scientific research. “We continue to register, to review, to disseminate, and to preserve,” he says, “the research output…We are involved in supporting and nurturing the cross-disciplinary research areas…We also facilitate collaboration.”

Kolman’s hope is that advances in big data technology will forward scientific progress by making collaboration, whether interdepartmental or intercontinental, more realistic. Kolman notes that a problem facing research is the instinct to horde one’s data. Perhaps when security concerns about cloud computing and open source information are alleviated, co-operation will be perceived as more accessible and safer.

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