March 2, 2016

Big, Open, Integrative, Transformative

All science is now data science.

Advances in instrumentation, sensors, data analysis techniques and tools, computing power and storage capacity, and digitization are among the factors producing quantities of information unimaginable two decades ago. These new tools and the treasure chests of data they are unlocking or capturing for the first time are enabling innovative research. Scientists are increasingly able to do the work necessary to identify the rules and patterns of life on Earth, provide the insights necessary to improve human health, secure our food supplies during a time of rapidly changing environmental conditions, and provide the data we require to manage our increasingly threatened biological diversity.

Accessing and integrating the vast amounts of biological data already held in databases offers industry new opportunities to make strategic decisions informed by actual environmental, genetic, proteomic, ecological, or other data. Moreover, the ability to identify existing data enables a more strategic deployment of resources to gather needed, but not yet captured information.

Photo credit: William Hargrove

Increased public access to data is creating new opportunities for educators to engage students in real world research. Innovative new curricula that allow students to access and work with data, for example biological and environmental data maintained by natural history museums, provides students with valuable opportunities to develop the quantitative and computer skills employers require. Citizen scientists are benefiting from access to data--enabling the development of applications not yet imaginable.

The questions now dominant in the biological sciences increasingly require biologists to make research data accessible so that it can be integrated with existing environmental, ecological, systematic, genomic, or other knowledge. A renewed emphasis on reproducibility in science is pushing in the same direction.

These trends make it clear that the biological sciences community must develop shared standards of practice, and speak to policymakers and funders with a coordinated voice. Professional scientific societies and organizations must engage in an active process of developing and implementing these shared standards. Scientific journals may need to establish and enforce data availability and repository requirements. Data repositories must find sustainable funding models and work to coordinate and collaborate with one another. Funders must set clear expectations and provide appropriate support for data stewardship. Scientists must become facile in the use of complex data, and in their ability to evaluate how complex data are used or misused to inform conclusions. Future biologists must be prepared to efficiently manage and prepare data and metadata for publication, document complex analyses, and even include computer code in their publications.

AIBS is the national organization that is helping the biological sciences community to develop the data sharing strategies and practices required to advance biology for the benefit of science and society.

We ask organizations and individuals interested in promoting a robust national biological research and education system to work with us in these endeavors.

For more information, please contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250 or rgr...@aibs.org.

Forthcoming Work

  • Briefing for Lawmakers: A briefing to highlight the findings of a workshop assessing biological informatics education and workforce needs.
  • Meetings and discussions with organizational leaders and individual scientists and educators that help the community develop the shared practices and expectations required to function optimally in the new data-rich environment.

Recent Work

May 2016

On May 26, 2016, the American Institute of Biological Sciences released the summary report from its December 2015 workshop on the education and training needs for the biological informatics workforce. This report summarizes important discussions and offers 12 recommendations for scientific societies, journal editors, academia, libraries, funders, and the government. Action on these issues is required if we are to ensure the development of the scientific workforce needed to advance interdisciplinary science, drive new discoveries in the life sciences, and provide the scientific insights necessary to solve complex health and environmental problems.

In addition to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, 11 national organizations cosponsored this meeting. Their support is greatly acknowledged, but does not suggest organizational endorsement of the report.

Workshop Sponsors:

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences
  • iDigBio
  • Biodiversity Collections Network
  • Ecological Society of America
  • Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
  • New Mexico EPSCoR
  • DataONE
  • iPlant Collaborative (now CyVerse)
  • Computational Biology Institute of The George Washington University
  • Kansas University Biodiversity Institute
  • Society for the Study of Evolution
  • Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

April 2016

AIBS' Interim Co-Executive Director Dr. Robert Gropp discusses open data issues, including an initiative to create an IsoBank, in a BioScience editorial. Read the editorial.

February 2016

AIBS' Interim Co-Executive Director Dr. Robert Gropp was a discussant on a plenary panel at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Sciences Conference. The panel explored aspects of open data and its importance for understanding and modeling the impact of large-scale environmental stresses on ecological systems and human health. Other panelists included Dr. Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine; Dr. Brooks Hansen, Director of Journals, American Geophysical Union; Dr. Peter Brewer, Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Dr. Lisa DiPinto, Senior Scientist, NOAA Assessment and Restoration Division; and Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, Director-emeritus, National Library of Medicine.

January 2016

AIBS Director of Publications, Dr. Timothy Beardsley, shares ideas on "How to Surf the Big Data Wave" in a BioScience editorial.

December 2015

Photo credit: Julie Palakovich Carr

The 2015 annual meeting of the American Institute of Biological Sciences Council of Member Societies and Organizations addressed education and training issues related to the biological informatics workforce. The meeting, co-sponsored by 11 leading scientific organizations and research centers, brought together nationally recognized leaders for a day-long discussion of the opportunities for professional societies, educational institutions, funders, and journals to engage in practices that will lead to new community-informed standards and expectations for data sharing and use. Toward this end, opportunities were identified for these communities to collaborate to ensure that current and future scientists are appropriately prepared to function optimally in an increasingly data rich environment.

A report from this meeting was published in May 2016. AIBS will host a briefing for policymakers in 2016.

November 2015

AIBS' Senior Editor, James Verdier, discussed complex biological data integration with Dr. Corinna Gries. The interview is available online as a podcast. Gries co-authored with Dr. Robert Gropp and Dr. Paula Mabee a workshop report on data integration.

October 2015

AIBS' Director of Publications, Dr. Timothy Beardsley, challenged the community to think about biological informatics education and workforce needs in an editorial in BioScience.

July 2015

AIBS released the report from a two-day workshop that brought together leaders from across biology to explore barriers to the integration of complex biological data.

The workshop, which was held in March 2015 in Arlington, Virginia, brought together more than two-dozen experts in genetics, genomics and metagenomics, biology, systematics, taxonomy, ecology, bio- and ecoinformatics, and cyberinfrastructure development. The workshop report summarizes use cases that highlight barriers and solutions to complex data integration; impediments, technical problems, and crosscutting issues related to integrating data; and, recommendations and next steps required to achieve better data integration.

The report includes recommendations related to governance, education and training, data discovery and access, evaluation of data for fitness of use, and the process for data integration. The full report, "Enhancing Complex Data Integration across Research Domains: A Workshop Report" is available on the AIBS website.

The workshop was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

May 2015

Dr. Timothy Beardsley, AIBS Director of Publications, considers the future of data publication in an editorial he penned for BioScience.

March 2015

An editorial in BioScience considers how the new data rich environment is influencing research strategy.

December 2014

With support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, AIBS convened a meeting on "Changing Practices in Data Publication." This one-day workshop was held in Washington, DC, and included more than 80 participants from federal agencies, scientific societies and research centers, journal publishers and editors, research funders, and others. The meeting sought to identify common challenges to the publication of data, and to begin identifying community-wide approaches to resolving these issues.

Read a summary report.

Listen to an audio recording of the presentations.

October 2014

Are you ready for open data? This is the question posed by AIBS Director of Publications, Dr. Timothy Beardsley, in a BioScience editorial.

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