International science community to establish global virtual library for scientific data

October 23, 2008

The existing networks for collecting, storing and distributing data in many areas of science are inadequate and not designed to enable the inter-disciplinary research that is necessary to meet major global challenges. These networks must be transformed into a new inter-operable data system and extended around the world and across all areas of science. The General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU) agreed today to take the first strategic steps to establish such a system.

More scientific data and information is now available than at any other time in history and the volume is increasing daily, particularly via the World Wide Web. Yet the quality, long-term stewardship and availability of this data is largely uncertain and a large amount of valuable scientific data remains inaccessible. Over 50 years ago, ICSU established networks of data centres and services to provide full and open access to scientific data and products for the global community. But the world has changed enormously in 50 years, most notably with advances in technology, and it is time for the existing structures to be integrated into a new expanded system—a World Data System.

The expert report recommending the new system and presented to the ICSU General Assembly asserts: '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'. The report concludes that ICSU itself can play a leading role by re-structuring its own data bodies.

Ray Harris, chair of the expert Committee that produced the report said, 'Data is the lifeblood of science and there are many exciting developments, which mean that access to scientific data both for science and for policy making should be much easier. However, in many areas there is little order and the origin and reliability of what one finds on the web can be almost impossible to determine'.

'A more strategic and systematic international approach, together with significant financial investment at the national level, is urgently required if we are to realise the full benefit of science for society,' Harris continued.

Dave Carlson, the 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—added: '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.'

The report and more information on the General Assembly are available at:

Source: International Council for Science

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5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2008
If only they would design such a system to be open for public read access.
not rated yet Oct 27, 2008
For almost 40 years I hear that: the existing computers / their data are unreliable, but the future will become better - and always happened the opposite.
not rated yet Oct 27, 2008
If only they would design such a system to be open for public read access.
First off- what do you mean they? I believe the correct reference is we- humanity as a whole engaged in a communal project for our common benefit and legacy for the future.

Second- a humble submission for at least biological, environmental, sociological and economic data. A fully relational database with standardized, or at least convertible units of measure, graphics display etc is (I expect) required. However access, at least initially, might be intuitively afforded for experts and non-experts alike by using something like google earth to provide a consistant visual geo-reference template covering the globe as whole as well as a starting point to devise a consistant data structure which allows data from different sources to be aggregated/compared/etc. Data and displays from different periods could comprise another layer over the same geo-point. Trends that now require detailed and dedicated analysis, especially if they are transboundary or interregional, might more simply pop out visually. There are also a number of very large companies with the resources and (again I expect) the interest in participating in such an endeavour- what do companies like Google have to say on this?.

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