Yale event to ‘rescue’ federal environmental data

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The federal government produces massive amounts of scientific data, which scholars, policymakers, and the general public access and use to inform research and develop sound policies.

The change in presidential administrations has triggered concerns among researchers that government datasets, particularly those related to climate change and environmental science, will be scrubbed from the Internet and permanently lost.

DataRescue New Haven @ Yale, an event happening at the university on Saturday, March 4, is a volunteer effort to preserve government data so that the public and researchers can continue to access it. The event will be held at 17 Hillhouse Ave. in the TEAL classroom from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers are welcome.

“This is something that government information librarians have been worried about for as long as people have used electronic data: How do we make sure that electronic information is stable and preserved for the long term?” said Melanie Maksin, director of research support and outreach programs at Yale’s Center for Science and Social Science Information, an organizer of the event.  “Electronic information is easy to produce and disseminate, but it’s also easy to remove. There is some urgency to make sure this information gets preserved.”

Saturday’s event is part of a wider movement led by DataRefuge — a national collaborative effort founded at the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the Environmental Data Governance Initiative to preserve and safeguard federal environmental data.

Other universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University (NYU), recently have held DataRescue events, Maksin said.

DataRefuge has created an online repository for the captured data as well as a list of government datasets targeted for preservation. The 139 datasets currently stored in the repository include vehicle emissions data, NASA images, commercial fishery statistics, and data on sea level trends, among others.

The data captured at Yale will be stored in DataRefuge’s repository, Maksin said.

Yale faculty members have expressed concern that federal climate data is at risk of disappearing, Maksin said. Concerns about federal data are not limited to environmental science, however, she noted: Researchers in the social sciences are interested in long-term preservation and access to data on income, crime, education, and similar topics relevant to their fields.

Dozens of datasets recently disappeared from open.whitehouse.gov, a website the Obama administration created to promote government transparency, fueling concerns that important federal data could begin disappearing.

Yale students, faculty, and staff will be joined at Saturday’s event by alumni, members of the New Haven community, and participants from other universities, including NYU, Pratt Institute, and Tufts. Local organizations — including DataHaven, which gathers and disseminates public data, and the Connecticut Data Collaborative, a statewide public-private partnership that advocates for open data — have been instrumental in promoting the event, Maksin said.

Volunteers do not need to be tech-savvy to contribute.

“If you are interested in participating, we will find something for you to do,” she said. “If you can search the Internet or use social media, then you can help us.”

Volunteers should bring their own laptops, Maksin said.

The event is sponsored by the Yale University Library, the Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library; the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies, with support from the Office of the Deputy Provost for Research.

For more information or to volunteer, visit researchdata.yale.edu/datarescuenhv.

Media Contact

Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548