The Social Life of Data

Posted: November 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Data Sharing, Research Data | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford, addresses in his blogpost some interesting questions and positions related to open data:

First he states that access to and use of data may be shaped as much by social conventions as by available technology.

He quotes a report published by NESTA and RIN to illustrate what he means:

“Cultures vary in different disciplines, which can itself cause difficulties in cross-disciplinary work; but researchers are typically both co-operative and competitive. The key currency for securing competitive career rewards is publication of articles, conference papers and monographs; and many researchers regard the data and other resources that they create in the course of their research as their intellectual capital which they wish to exploit and mine in order to produce new publications over an extended period. Some researchers fear that openness involves a loss of control, and a risk of being scooped by others”.

Hall takes this as a proof, that the social life of data overlays the physical properties of data.

Beyond this, Hall claims that open data is inevitable – just because the advantages of open data will outweigh the benefits of academic competition:

The core of this argument is that the “knowledge economy” is not just the rise in importance of industries that rely on highly specialised and complex ways of doing things but is also, and critically, based on the distinctive qualities of digital data itself.  The information that now flows into our homes and workplaces in huge and ever-expanding quantities, almost unconstrained by time and distance, can be copied with ease, collated, searched and rearranged, trawled for patterns and delivered, on demand, in unique combinations. […]

It is improbable that the social conventions of traditional academic practice will be able to restrain such a flood.  But it also seems undesirable that they should do so.  This is because some of today’s research problems, and perhaps the majority of those of the future, are far too complex for traditional research practices to crack.

For Hall knowledge is at its most powerfull when it is codified in ways that can be widely interpreted, and distributed freely; open systems of science and innovation have always worked better, and open systems based on easy access to massive pools of digital data have awesome potential.

…well, this position seems to be a very positive view about the evolving of open data – I think we shouldn’t have the illusion that things will happen of its own volition. Nevertheless I think Hall points out a reasonable position that shows that open data would offer a lot of positive effects for scientific research.

photo: Marina Bernin  /



One Comment on “The Social Life of Data”

  1. 1 Brian Moseley said at 17:20 on December 6th, 2011:

    Thank you, I have recently been looking for facts about this question for a while and yours is the best I have found so far.