This week, 12-16 February, is Love Data Week themed around “data stories”.
A research intensive university like Leeds generates huge volumes of research data, whether climate data from the Priestley Centre and ICAS, interview transcripts from social scientists and humanities scholars in the LHRI or 3D models of viruses from the electron microscopes at the Astbury Centre:
— Open Research Leeds (@OpenResLeeds) March 25, 2017
Human beings, algorithmically assisted though we may now be, don’t find raw data intuitive, especially in the age of Big Data, measured in giga-, tera- or even petabytes, and though our information technology would appear magical to the oral tradition of our forebears, we are not so very different and still understand ourselves and our world through narrative, whether that of our planet or our own human story.
Not to say that storing, curating and preserving the raw data isn’t crucial. Information in the digital age is vastly more fragile than symbols inscribed on papyrus or parchment – bits and bytes can be corrupted, even disappear, like a story passed from mouth to mouth. So it’s important to ensure your data is properly looked after throughout the research lifecycle and beyond.
Like storytelling, and science itself, data analysis is a collaborative activity and it is good practice to make your data available from a specialist repository so that other scientists and scholars can access it. Some examples are the Environmental Information Data Centre (EIDC) for climate data, the Electron Microscopy Data Bank (EMDB) or Leeds’ own research data repository.
Use the Registry of Research Data Repositories to identify a suitable repository for your discipline.
In academia, the traditional story-telling medium is the journal article, from which it’s increasingly common practice to link to external datasets with a data availability statement. We’re also starting to see ‘data papers’ while social media, blogs and social media, can be leveraged to tell the story of your research and its data to a broad audience within and without the ivory tower – check out @undertheraedar on Twitter (Alasdair Rae, an urban and regional analyst from the University of Sheffield focusing on spatial data, GIS, neighbourhoods, housing markets, transport, commuting, quantitative data analysis, internet search data and geovisualization).
Then there’s data journalism which has become an established feature of mainline news outlets including The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent. A picture tells a thousand words and data journalists are experts in deploying the data visualisation or infographic, the Leeds Insitute of Data Analytics offer a range of training courses including data visualisation best practice using Tableau software.
So what’s your data story and how will you tell it?