If you’re not reading the comments here, you’re missing the best part of the blog. Case in point, this comment from the incomparable Chris Rusbridge, which I reproduce as a post so that those who are missing the best part of the blog don’t miss it:
Several things I wanted to respond to. You say you are “not at all sure we need to prove ab initio that keeping data is a good thing”. Well, yes, I kind of agree… but I’m also quite sure that keeping all data is not a good thing. So keeping some, but not all data is good. Which data? Ah, that’s a question for much, much more debate (one could postulate some classes of data but specifying a good set of data appraisal criteria is still a really tough challenge).
I also agree that there is no “killer-app magic bullet that will take an unholy mess of undescribed, undifferentiated digital stuff and miraculously organize it”, and further that “Data curation requires skill, time, process change (a tall order all by itself), and resources”. But two things occur to me here.
To the first order, dealing with the mess and providing the skills and changing processes is not the library’s job, or any other “central” organisation’s job. Dealing with data is the researcher’s job. The way forward is to make it increasingly clear that data messes equal bad, un-reproducible research. Good data management is essential for good research. Period. The only way out of this that I can see (other than bribery and scandal as motivators, both of which we might be getting) is to include better data management training in the preparations for new researchers, ie PhD and Post-Doc courses. And that’s a truly long-haul approach. Once we have some better managed, better curated data, then some central or shared group (eg library, data centre, whatever) has a reasonable chance of ingesting it and making it available. But rubbish data should be rejected. Always.
However, the second thing is that managing data in a research context is hard, and as far as I can see the tools (and standards) are not very good. There are some, but they tend not to be portable, and to be limited to a subset of disciplines. Even making sure your research group backs up its data is hard, when they use 3 different operating systems on 3 continents with 3 different sets of institutional requirements. Getting some “killer apps” to make that hard-grind technical stuff that bit easier (or even feasible, in some cases) would sure help to make the culture change work.
No-one could have forced academia to adopt the web if we had stuck with lynx, or whatever the character browser was. It took a smart set of standards AND a good piece of technology (Mosaic etc) to allow academics (and eventually others) to see how it could make their lives easier.
Mind you, I don’t agree with it all. Some parts of this puzzle are the library’s job, notably persistence of digital materials past the expiry date of grants, labs, and entire departments. I also believe that if you have to embed smart people in a lab to ensure that data is managed successfully?and while that can be debated, I do believe it; if researchers could do this on their own, I think they would have already?why shouldn’t those smart people be librarians?
But agree or no, I did think everyone should read it.