Telling Stories with Data
Let’s start with an easy one. What kind of data do you work with and what do you do with it?
I work with bibliometric data for the most part. I’m not very systematic and tend to be rather intuitive about how I gather and work with it in order to tease out insights. Because I don’t usually have a specific question to get out of the data I tend to just explore to find out what is interesting about a body of literature.
Tell us how you think you can use data to make a difference in your field.
The idea that librarians can help define a research landscape and identify gaps is relatively new. I like to think that by learning to work with bibliometric data I can help researchers better engage with information professionals and give librarians the confidence to use their skills in the research context.
How do you talk about your data to someone outside of academia?
I tell them that by looking at patterns in publishing researchers can see where trends and gaps are, as well as exploiting those patterns to have a larger impact. But I also make sure to point out the fact that basing insights off of metrics is flawed. You have to understand what each metric is and isn’t measuring. None of the metrics are an indication of the quality of an individual piece of research and there’s no replacement for critical analysis to determine that.
What data-related challenges do you have to deal with in your research environment?
First, I don’t have a background in statistics or programming, so there’s a limit to how complex an analysis I can do. Second, the metrics themselves are limited, so communicating the value of the information embedded in the data is a challenge. Third, a lot of bibliometric software is based on use of a particular database’s API so it’s difficult to combine results from different databases to give a broader picture.
How do you think these challenges might be overcome?
All of them would be helped if I could learn to programme! Collaborating with someone who knew how to do the actual analysis bit would be great because that way I could provide the insights and figure out exactly what I wanted to measure and they could make it happen.
If you were in charge what data-related rule would you introduce?
People who write software that does data analysis would make it more user-friendly for people who don’t know how to code. Basically there’d be a WYSIWYG/Microsoft Excel-style programme for doing bibliometric analyses and generating beautiful graphics based on it that didn’t require any coding.
We are Data
Tell us about your happiest data moment.
I was pleased when I discovered that Web of Science does a lot of the analysis I wanted to do but thought I could only do if I had InCites or similar. As much as I like knowing what’s being measured and having an intimate knowledge of the data, sometimes it’s nice to just be able to click a few buttons and get a nice graph!
What advice do you have for someone who is just embarking on a career in your field?
I’d want to tell them that they don’t need to be a maths or programming whiz to do it, but I’m not yet convinced of that myself! I think the main thing is not to think of some metrics as good and some as bad. They’re all just tools and you need to know what they do in order to pick which ones you want to use. Always look under the bonnet!
What do you think the future of research data looks like?
While I’d love for it to be open, interoperable, integrated and well-indexed, I’m not sure that’s going to happen any time soon. Each time someone develops a new standard to rule them all, it just gets added to the growing list of standard
There is A LOT of data out there about all sorts of things and it is being collected all the time. Does anything frighten you about data?
Yes. I don’t think that as a species we’ve really figured out what it means to live in a data-rich ecosystem, and I mean that both metaphorically and literally. The rate at which data is growing is currently unsustainable from the perspectives of preservation, legislation, interpretation and energy use. While I’m definitely uncomfortable with how much certain companies know about me, I’m more concerned with the fact that collecting and managing that amount of data about everyone and everything is bad for the planet and we haven’t figured out how to make sure it’s safe. We need legislation and curation to catch up with technology instead of lagging about a decade behind.