Sustaining Data

Last week, folks from DataONE gathered in Berkeley to discuss sustainability (new to DataONE? Read my post about it). Of course, lots of people are talking about sustainability in Berkeley, but this discussion focused on sustaining scientific data and its support systems.  The truth is, no one wants to pay for data sustainability. Purchasing servers and software, and paying for IT personnel is not cheap. Given our current grim financial times, room in the budget is not likely to be made.  So who should pay?  Let’s first think about the different groups that might pay.

  1. Private foundations
  2. Public agencies (e.g., NSF, NIH)
  3. Institutions
  4. Professional societies and organizations
  5. Researchers

Although the NSF provides funds for organizations like DataONE to develop, they are not interested in funding “sustainability”. They are in the business of funding research, which means that come 2019 when NSF funding ends for DataONE, someone else is going to have to pick up the tab.

Any researcher (including myself) will tell you that the thought of paying for data archiving and personnel is not appealing.  Budgets are already tight in proposals (which have record low acceptance rates); combine that with the lack of clarity about data management and archiving costs, and researchers are not eager to take on sustainability.

Many researchers see data sustainability as the domain of their institutions: providing data management and archiving services in bulk to their faculty would allow institutions to both regulate how their researchers handle their data, and remove the guesswork and confusion for the researchers themselves.  However with budget crises plaguing higher education due to rising costs and decreasing revenue, this is not a cost that institutions are likely to take on in the near future.

Obviously I was going to reference Pink Floyd for this post on money… From Wikipedia.

Lack of funds for critical data infrastructure is a systematic problem, and DataUp is no exception. Although we have funds to promote DataUp and publish our findings in the course of the project, we do not have funds to continue development. There is also the question of storage for datasets. Storage is not free, and we have not yet solved the problem of who will pay in the long term for storing data ingested into the ONEShare repository via DataUp.

Now that I’ve completed this post, it seems rather bleak. I am confident, however, that we have the right people working on the problem of data sustainability. It is certainly a critical piece in the current landscape of digital data.

Love Pink Floyd AND The Flaming Lips? Check out the FL cover album for Dark Side of the Moon, including a spectacular version of “Money”.

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