Scientists mine rich data resources efficiently to make new types of discoveries
- Institutions: experimenting with new kinds of organizational structures for supporting data science in academic research
- People: empowering data scientists to pursue groundbreaking research for data-driven discoveries
- Practices: exploring ways to leverage the innovative technologies now available to harness data and expand upon those to establish reusable techniques and tools for all researchers
Today’s scientific instruments and computer simulations are producing complex data at exponential rates, creating a virtual data deluge for scientists. Effectively managing these large and complex scientific datasets requires better tools, practices and new solutions, including shared systems for analysis, better visualization of data, and fundamentally different techniques for handling the scale of modern science data.
We believe that technology solutions alone will not be sufficient, and tackling barriers in academic culture by supporting data scientists who know how to use those solutions will be key to handling the scale of modern science data. Data scientists combine scientific expertise, computational knowledge and statistical skills to solve critical problems and make new discoveries—and also to solve those problems that would in turn enable others to make breakthroughs. The research community recognizes the need for this skill set, but the lack of academic incentives creates a critical shortage of practitioners. In other words, science may be data-rich, but will remain relatively discovery-poor without the institutional commitment, people-power or technology needed to mine the data and reveal hidden breakthroughs.
For academic research to embrace data-driven discovery in full, we need to create broad support for data scientists. That is why the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has committed $60 million over the next five years to develop examples within academic research that are yielding powerful advances and new discoveries through data science. We believe that unleashing the potential of inquiry and exploration not only leads to scientific progress, but can also deliver important societal benefits. Grants for Data-Driven Discovery will begin in late 2013.
How does the Data-Driven Discovery Initiative support the mission of the Foundation’s Science Program?
- We pursue opportunities to spark discovery to transform or even create, entire fields. Challenges associated with the scale and complexity of modern research data is affecting almost every discipline in science, and certainly the field in which the Foundation’s Science Program invests. Tackling a root cause of these challenges, too few scientists skilled in practicing data science, is key to transforming a problem into an opportunity for innovation and discovery.
- We look for ways to find innovative solutions: Data science is a multidisciplinary practice, something that has the potential to impact all fields of science. Data scientists and teams have the capacity to look at problems from a fresh perspective and catalyze collaborations that can tackle previously impossible challenges.
- We fund areas of science where our funding can make a difference: The term “Big Data” and the technologies for tackling big data are all the rage. The commercial sector and the US Federal Government are currently taking on important efforts to address some of the technical problems surrounding the data deluge but significant gaps remain before academic research can take full advantage of these offerings. Specifically, it will take a sustained focus on the kinds of people who can harness these new technologies and deploy them for the challenges of academic research. Without these people, the technology solutions will take much longer to work their way into scientific practice and reduce the quality of discoveries that are possible.
- We seek respected partners to amplify each other’s work. This initiative plans for extensive collaborations between, commercial, public and private funders of science to address needs surrounding data-driven discovery. The tools and technologies emerging from federal and commercial efforts need to be matched with data scientists and data science teams in a coordinated way that amplifies and accelerates progress for research across multiple domains of science. No single solution create meaningful change. We need a concerted, cross-disciplinary effort, and the Foundation is contributing to this work through the Data-Driven Discovery Initiative.