Sunday, 12 December 2010

Interdisciplinary research, data ownership and open science

The artificial culture project team is starting to place data on its website and make it publically available – well some of it – the data from robot experiments. The data so far uploaded is text so file size is relatively small.

For developing the open science aspect of the project, along with Sajida Bhamjee, I am working out how to make available video of the robot experiments. This has raised technical issues that prompt me to reflect about data ownership.

To maintain the project data availability over many years, perhaps well after the current research team have moved on, we have chosen to use freely available web space from one of the major commercial suppliers, so have to work within the limitations of this. We could buy more space but we do not have a funding stream to support this into the future. We can set up web space in the name of the whole team with one quota of space, or each team member can set up personal spaces and thus gain access to a larger quota of space. In a team space with equity of access, everyone can change everything. In individual spaces the person running the space specifies what is shared with other individuals or open to the public, and specifies who can change items in that space. Using individual space for the project means as individuals, we are using space we might have used for other things.

When uploading onto You Tube, the film of the social scientists meeting the robots, filmed summer 2010, it was the first time I had done this and so I just followed the instructions and opened an individual account. When I then went to upload onto You Tube a video of robots imitating, it occurred to me that, apart from the intellectual contribution through project team meetings, all the work to produce the film had been by other team members. I felt uncomfortable about uploading it under my name. We went ahead as we were exploring technical aspects of sharing videos. Realising You Tube was not the best place for the video (as it was difficult for people to download it and this was important as the video needed to be on fast forward to be watchable) we turned to using google docs. However, we face the same problem: into who’s web space do we place the video?

When sharing data within a team where members undertake similar research – for me this is research using social science methods such as interviews – data is shared by the team even when only one or two team members actually collected the data. The rest of the team undertakes tasks to enable the data collection including gaining the funding, enabling access for recruitment of people to the study and supervising the data collection, and brings analysis expertise to the data. For projects where I didn’t collect the data, I know that given sufficient time (by which I mean time out from other tasks), I could collect the data myself - I have the skills to do this.

One of my uncomfortable feelings about uploading the video of the robots onto my You Tube website, was that I could not collect the data myself. It is just possible that given sufficient time to retrain as a roboticist I just might – but this would be a whole career not time out from teaching and administration. I can contribute to analysis of the data, but not in a way that would be sufficiently robust for critical review. It would be easy for me to interpret something about the robots that I thought was interesting. However a swarm roboticist might realise that this was a technological hitch interfering with our experiment rather than a result of the experiment.


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