Data and how to handle it – biocuration and beyond

female_computer_idea.jpgI was enjoying a wonderfully wet, gray autumn day – you know the kind – just perfect for curling up and reading a good book with a hot cup of tea. I figured I’d just indulge in a little break from writing & revising drafts of tutorials and publications. I was going to allow myself one Nature article – “The future of biocuration“, which I’ve been meaning to read since it came. The article was written by several biocurators and describes the exponential growth in the amount of available biological data and proposes three urgent actions:

1. collaboration among authors, journals and curators to expedite the exchange of data between databases and journal publications

2. development of a recognition structure that encourages community curation

3. establishment of scientific curation as an accepted professional career

computer_information.jpgThe article makes a lot of good points, and I highly recommend you read it if you are interested in the future of databases at all. But as I began reading, I couldn’t stop. The special feature of this whole issue of Nature is ‘Big Data: Science in the petabyte era’. I really think Nature did a great job of finding and presenting many many points of view on the subject of big data – some that I’ve been thinking about as I register for upcoming meetings – and some I’ve never considered, but can now see how they make so much sense…

OK, let me just take a deep breath and explain what I mean. I have the UTmost respect for biocurators – I was one for years (as I’ve mentioned before), and everybody at OpenHelix loves them & thinks they do great work. We just got news of the upcoming Biocurator meeting & we are looking forward to being involved with that. I agree with much of what is in ‘the future of biocuration’ article.

BUT, I think this problem is big, I mean really big. Like so big we may all have to learn to talk new languages & make friends outside of our normal circles. One example I can see from my own experience is I’d love to find a way to get biocurators talking to science bloggers. Trey and I went to last year’s bloggers meeting & I’ve just signed up for the next one. Last year I had no idea of what a science blogger was, or (honestly) even why might want to be one. After the meeting my tune changed a bit – now I’d consider it a compliment to be called a science blogger! That group has real passion and zeal – and lots of the same sort of goals as biocurators. There were talks about marking up journal articles better for easier reading, there was belief in providing the details of experiments through open lab notebooks, just to name two areas of overlap. I think biobloggers would be great collaborators for biocurators to tap for community curation – and I think both groups could benefit from the other.

brainstorming.jpgSo that’s just from my experience, but as I said, I think Nature did a great job at pulling ideas from lots of great places – of course there was a wiki article. Then there was the ‘How do your data grow?’ article that suggested a lot could be learned about data handling & storage from librarians and archivists. Plus the suggestion in the ‘Distilling meaning from data’ article that perhaps experimental designs could be slightly tweeked for better visual representation and thus clarity if scientists could chat with graphic artists BEFORE scads of data is collected. This issue of Nature is a great conversation starter – if you haven’t got online access, I suggest you buy this issue from a newstand – but how do we keep the conversation rolling? Every little group has their own set of meetings & we are all so busy. And how do we extend the conversation to all the other talented people that could/would join the cause? I didn’t see any articles specifically touching on subjects near and dear to our hearts here at OpenHelix – namely resource awareness and quick start training.

It reminds me of the current election season – even if you don’t like what everyone is saying, the conversation must begin somewhere…

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