Vikings and clouds- the Nordic journey towards data-driven science
Written by Arne Vollertsen
More data leads to better science, and scientists should be able to access all existing data relevant to their research, across borders and research domains. That is the vision of the European Open Science Cloud initiative. The Nordics are contributing to realising this vision, using the region as a test bed, building on the well-established Nordic tradition for cross-border sharing and collaborating.
The Vikings travelled far and wide, trading, raiding and settling across most of modern Europe, from Greenland to Russia and beyond. But nowadays the borderless Viking world is making it difficult to study Viking culture with digital tools. Although our ever-growing online universe ought to be just as disrespectful of borders as the Vikings once were, archaeologists have difficulties accessing and analysing archaeological data across borders, because it is siloed in national archives.
Norwegian and Danish archaeologists are now collaborating to integrate two national archaeological databases. They are creating one search interface, so that archaeologists looking for e.g. tortoise brooches can search both countries’ Viking age finds simultaneously, making it much easier to establish connections and similarities, and to draw new knowledge from ancient artefacts. The plan is to integrate other archaeological databases in Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Iceland as well.
From the Vikings to Brussels
The Viking project is part of the EOSC-Nordic initiative, coordinated by NeIC and gathering 24 participants from 10 countries. To put EOSC-Nordic into perspective we need to change the scene from Vikings and tortoise brooches to the meeting rooms and corridors of Brussels:
In 2015 the EU launched its Digital Single Markets strategy, and with it a digital single market for research, termed the European Open Science Cloud, in short: EOSC. As stated by the EU, EOSC aims to “create a trusted environment for hosting and processing research data to support EU science in its global leading role”.
The EOSC vision reflects a profound change in the way scientific research is carried out. Digitalisation is creating an ever-growing ocean of data allowing science to become more and more data-driven, across a growing number of fields and domains. More data equals better science, and the examples of increasingly data-driven science are numerous:
- Weather forecasting can be made ultra-precise and hyper-local by integrating sensor data from intelligent cars, phones, buildings and personal weather stations.
- Digitalisation has revolutionised whole research fields, e.g. linguistics. Having large quantities of linguistic data at their disposal, researchers have started to apply sophisticated statistical software for analysing the data, and now the majority of linguistic research is based on digital data sets “crunched” by statistical code.
- Immensely complex climate models help scientists predict the effects of climate change and can guide decision makers in responding to this huge challenge.
Only used once
However, much research data is produced in a laboratory somewhere and used exactly once to write a paper. Furthermore, studies show that most scientific data is inaccessible to others, and that scientific data could be utilized much more efficiently. To change that, you need to share data. In fact, sharing is not enough. You need to share data in a way that makes it useful to others. Data has to be FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable).
EOSC is building on these FAIR principles, and according to the EU “the EOSC will offer 1.7 million European researchers and 70 million professionals in science, technology, the humanities and social sciences a virtual environment with open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines by federating existing scientific data infrastructures, currently dispersed across disciplines and the EU Member States.”
From vision to reality
But there can be a long way from formulating a high-level vision of a future Internet of research data and services to realising it. Huge challenges lie ahead, e.g. regarding data standards, legal and privacy issues, storage methods, harmonizing requirements for data quality across borders and institutions, and much more.
In this European effort the Nordics have something unique to bring to the table, and that uniqueness might even go all the way back to the Vikings, although only the amicable side of them:
Due to social and cultural similarities the Nordic countries are especially well suited for collaborating amongst each other, and they have a long and well-established tradition for working together across borders. As realising the EOSC requires new forms of collaboration, it might be easier to develop them in the Nordics than in other European regions. Thus one of the ideas behind EOSC-Nordic is to create a test bed for new concepts on a Nordic scale and iron out the difficulties here, before taking the next step and doing a full-scale implementation involving all European member states.
Launched in September 2019, EOSC-Nordic aims at coordinating activities in the Nordic and Baltic countries relevant to the European Open Science Cloud. Bringing existing Nordic digital resources for science to the next level of openness and interoperability involves initiatives on many different levels, technical, legal and otherwise.
Thus EOSC-Nordic aims at supporting the harmonization of open-science policies in the Nordic and Baltic region, and enabling Nordic services to interoperate between each other and with the EOSC portal. Also, the project is developing a Knowledge Hub for training and technical support to new service providers and communities interested in interacting with the EOSC.
Furthermore, to demonstrate the tangible benefits of the EOSC to researchers and policy-makers, EOSC-Nordic is developing 10 showcase projects demonstrating how increased interoperability can make a significant difference for both science and society. Apart from the Viking project already mentioned, these demonstrators cover precision medicine, biological diversity, natural language processing and climate modelling.
Quoting EOSC-Nordic Project Manager Lene Krøl Andersen, the goal of EOSC-Nordic is to promote unity across the Nordic and Baltic countries.
“We want services used in the local research communities to open up, become more visible and harmonized across borders. Also, the project wants to manage the handling of sensitive data, and increase infrastructure efficiency across borders, together with making it easier to work with data across research disciplines.”
Hubble leads the way
Lars Fischer, task leader in one of the ESOC-Nordic Work Packages elaborates:
“For example, to use the Hubble Space Telescope you need to send in an application. However, an analysis carried out a few years ago showed, that only about a third of the papers produced from Hubble observations are produced by people who got the grant. Two thirds of the papers were written later by people who just found the data in the archive. And that is super important. If we can get to a place where more of that happens in other disciplines, that would be the real contribution. And I think the Nordic countries have a role to play in that, because we have that tradition in sharing data. And if we can bring that to the rest of Europe, we can really produce value.”
Launched in September 2019, EOSC-Nordic comprises 24 project participants from 10 countries. It runs until August 2022.
The statements by Lene Krøl Andersen and Lars Fischer quoted in this article are taken from Q&As published on the EOSC-Nordic website www.eosc-nordic.eu/qa/ and www.eosc-nordic.eu/qa-4/.
For in-depth information about EOSC-Nordic please go to the project website: https://www.eosc-nordic.eu/