What to Do with Data in the Modern World

The last AMS statement related to data issues was written in 2002. But in the last 10 years, information technology advances have revolutionized data services, including how data are provided, accessed, analyzed, managed, shared, and archived. In Monday’s Town Hall Meeting on Free and Open Sharing of Environmental Data, UCAR’s Mohan Ramamurthy introduced a new AMS statement on data policy that is presently in production. Ramamurthy pointed out that unrestricted access to data is fundamental to the advancement of science, and that access should be free as much as possible. But issues of data can lead to difficult questions, some of them fundamental, like “What does free even mean?” Does it refer to access, cost, or both? And when talking about cost, who ultimately bears that cost?
The process of creating an AMS statement involves multiple steps over several months, and development of the new data statement is still in its early stages. Thus, in many cases, questions like the above are still being answered. And the subject of data has numerous angles to be considered in preparing the statement: curation/stewardship, metadata, timeliness, transparency, preservation, citation, and standards, to name a few. One of the more intriguing issues mentioned by Ramamurthy involves the potential for preplanned joint data collection partnerships between governmental and commercial entities during crisis situations. He cited Superstorm Sandy as an instance when the private sector had an abundance of data that was particularly valuable to the government. He compared this situation with what currently occurs between the defense sector and the aviation industry, when the government utilizes aircraft from private airlines for various purposes, and the companies are compensated for such use.
Among the preliminary recommendations made by the statement’s writing team are to design programs that reduce data-sharing barriers between the sectors of the AMS; ensure that all journal articles include sufficient details regarding information and methodology in order to verify the articles’ conclusions; and recognize data science as a career.
Ramamurthy emphasized that crafting the new statement is a process that should involve the entire AMS community. He invited members to comment on the statement by contacting him at [email protected].