A world of information at the Yale Day of Data

Keynote speaker William Michener and Yale researchers from across disciplines gathered on Nov. 30 to discuss the role of data in their research.
William Michener speaks at the Yale Day of Data.

Keynote speaker William Michener: “We are undergoing a major change in paradigms with respect to how we think about and deal with data.” (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

On Nov. 30, Earth tones were the order of the day at the 2018 Yale Day of Data.

Earth data of every sort figured prominently at the sixth annual event, held this year at Sterling Memorial Library. It included the latest data from satellites, spectrographs, surveys, and social scientists.

Susan Gibbons, the Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian and deputy provost for collections and scholarly communication, started the day with some context. “Across the campus, across many different disciplines, we were encountering researchers and students and faculty who were working with data and often had very similar problems, though they were in different disciplines,” Gibbons said. “What we were hoping to do is to help foster a community of practice.”

That effort is being echoed at universities, institutes, non-profits, funding groups, and government agencies, according to keynote speaker William Michener, professor and director of e-science initiatives at the University of New Mexico. “We are undergoing a major change in paradigms with respect to how we think about and deal with data,” Michener said. “Data products are a valuable result of the scientific enterprise. These data products need to be retained, preserved, and then re-used.”

Michener noted that many modern areas of science exploration require cross-disciplinary research and expertise, making the collection and management of data crucial. He cited a number of data tools for various disciplines and reiterated the importance of having a comprehensive data management plan in place.

He also talked about the role of data librarians in helping researchers preserve their data sets and make them available to others. “There is no need to carry your data to the grave with you,” Michener said.

The Day of Data highlighted a number of faculty members who use data in novel ways:

  • Karen Seto, the Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, explained how she uses satellite data to reveal trends about global urbanization and its impact.
  • Tracey Meares, the Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law and founding director of the Justice Collaboratory, presented an overview of how she uses data to better understand how communities understand their relationship with police and the justice system.
  • Dena Schulman-Green, an associate professor in the Division of Acute Care and Health Systems at the Yale School of Nursing, talked about the role of qualitative data in getting the full measure of a medical patient’s experience, when used in concert with quantitative data.

Data exists to come off the page,” Schulman-Green said. “To come to life and make life better for it.”

  • Jessi Cisewski, an assistant professor of statistics and data science, discussed her research using spectrograph data to help locate exoplanets.
  • Casey King, director of the Capstone Program and a lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, talked about the “humanistic” approach to data and finding new perspectives to develop new data tools.
Karen Seto, Tracey Meares, and Dena Schulman-Green at the Yale Day of Data.
Left to right: Karen Seto, Tracey Meares, and Dena Schulman-Green. (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

Presentations also mentioned larger-scale Yale initiatives involving data.

Alan Gerber, the Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Political Science and dean of the social science division of the Faculty of Arts and Science, outlined Yale’s data efforts in social science disciplines.

Gerber said data-intensive social sciences are a top academic priority for the university. Researchers should be able to have a “great” idea and fully explore it in a “friction-free” environment, he explained, and students should emerge from Yale as “sophisticated, engaged citizens who are able to understand complicated claims” and assume leadership roles in their communities and organizations.

Data plays an important role in this, Gerber said. In the social sciences, he said, graduates should use data in decision-making, be able to communicate the meaning of data, and have a commitment to open, unbiased science.

Peter Schiffer, vice provost for research and professor of applied physics and physics, echoed that sentiment. He noted that data science is one of the top science investment priorities identified by the University Science Strategy Committee (USSC). President Peter Salovey recently accepted the USSC’s recommendations.

Every single field is being impacted by the ability to collect and acquire large sets of data and then analyze them,” Schiffer said.

The Day of Data event closed with a presentation on data innovation, entrepreneurship and the role of virtual and augmented reality by Martin Wainstein, open innovation fellow and innovator in residence at Tsai City, and Sophie Janaskie, environmental innovation fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment and Tsai City.

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Jim Shelton: james.shelton@yale.edu, 203-361-8332