Science community plans global data library

Scientific organisations representing over 130 countries have decided to overhaul existing world data centres and services to create a World Data System.

The General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU) has agreed to take the first steps towards an interoperable data system that will extend around the world and across all areas of science.

This plan is in response to uncertainty about the quality, long-term stewardship and availability of scientific data and information. Over 50 years ago, ICSU established networks of data centres and services to provide full and open access to scientific data. However, the world has changed enormously since then. An expert report recommending the new system was presented to the ICSU General Assembly. This report said that: ‘there is a need for global federations of professional state of the art data management institutions, working together and exchanging practices. Such federations can provide quality assurance and promote data publishing, providing the backbone for a global virtual library for scientific data’. It concluded that ICSU could play a leading role by re-structuring its own data bodies.

Dave Carlson, director of the programme office for the International Polar Year (IPY)—a major, ICSU-sponsored, interdisciplinary research programme that is using and generating enormous amounts of data—commented: ‘There are more than 200 IPY research projects, funded to the tune of 1.5 billion Euros, and its major legacy should be the data that will inform polar research for years to come. But we still don’t know how most of this data will be handled’. ‘The new ICSU World Data System should help provide at least part of the answer. A little bit of extra resource for data management is urgently needed to ensure maximum return on what has been a huge public investment in IPY.’

ICSU will implement the recommendations in the report over the next three years.

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