I finally finished this baby!
Today’s Data are Part of Tomorrow’s Research: Archival Issues in the Sciences
A book chapter I submitted to a peer reviewed archiving book. I got to be the lead author which is always a big deal and got to work with some exceptional people who are experts in their fields. The chapter was a killer cuz i am writing in an interdisciplinary context, with high expectations and the learning curve was steep!
I learned that telling the truth is relative to the best way you know how to tell the truth at a particular time and context. Probably lying is closest to the truth! In science, it is dependent on the best methods, instruments and context possible at a given point in time, so truth winds up only ever being relative! You can only be as accurate to a known measure of higher or lower accuracy. Furthermore, you wanna know how much the truth you claim may deviate from the known truth. Circular ay! So next time i lie to you or tell you the truth - accept that i am doing the best i can! Feel comforted! I do, takes alot of stress and responsibility away!
Further i learned about ways to attest to a document’s authenticity and the presumption of authenticity. How do you know that something is what it purports to be. Not so easy! In the portals and case studies i examined, i discovered that scientific norms, documentation, metadata, authentication, controlled access, selection of contributors are all a part of ensuring that data are authentic and their pedigree are known. However, not much really insures that the data you get to your desktop downloaded from the portal that has all these measures in place have not been tampered with during transmission or transfer. The best you get is data and on a really good day they are accompanied by really good metadata. Authenticity at best is a series of activities, it is but an interpolation.
I also learned a bunch about transdisciplinarity and having to deal with heterogeneity. At least in a superficial sense, my colleague peter can go way deeper in how to deal with heterogeneity with formal ontologies and semantic interoperability. I merely bow to him! Nonetheless, i am growing more and more weary about general claims to just about anything, which, well leads me to saying just about nothing really! Down with absolutism! Up with fuzzyness! For example, this was chapter was about imparting the really important concepts of accuracy, authenticity and reliability in the sciences to archivists who will need to consider these at the time of appraisal. Well, there is no one method fits all solution. There are clusters of practices but no specificities. Archivists and creators will have to work together! Dang! there goes trying to transfer knowledge from the grave. This also means that creators are entering the archives whereas before the archivist selected what got ingested. It will be interesting to see what happens to archival objectivity in the next 20 or so years and what gets archived! So document dear friends document!
I also learned about trust, how do you trust that what you are saying is true and that what others are saying is true. I had a very hard time reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of surveyed data i collected with the help of some fine students, and keeping my mind as objective to the stated mission as possible. I know what i want to see, but can i see what i need to see, what is it i am missing, am i imposing a structure and a bias and therefore only select what i comprehend or want to hear? Each time i read each survey something new popped up, and each time i learn something i had to go back and see if i missed that concept anywhere else. Quite frankly, i am still not sure. I will need more robust qualitative measures to analyse the huge amount of material. For later!
What i like about science, it the wonderful attempts at objectivity, the acceptance that there will be a margin of error, wanting to know those limitations and the want to make decisions based on the best possible data around for the particular application at hand. I also really appreciated the degree of collaboration and willingness to disseminate knowledge in the 32 scientific data portals i investigated and 7 case studies i examined. This helps me understand more the about the ambivalence different sciences - social and natural - have for each other’s data. It is very hard to get a handle on what norms and practices are robust versus another, therefore there is mistrust as there is an absence of knowledge. In a more virulent form there is complete dismissial of much social science by hard scientists, and social scientists dispute the objectivity claims hard scientists purport to have.
Over the past 4 years of working on two really big transdisciplinary research projects, i was very priviledge to observe two fields radically change. Cartography really changed with the introduction of google maps, web 2.0 social technologies, multimodal and multisensory technologies, wikipedia and art. Archiving, as ancient a practice as cartography, is changing with the advent of digital technology and is just not at a point ready to absorb all that that entails. Head archivists for example were trained on paper media, no one yet really knows how to train archivists in the digital age, and concepts such as what a record is, is being transformed with the advent of dynamic, experiential and interactive / immersive media. Dang! How are archives going to ever catch up to even pick up all that social web stuff! Social web folks! Think about archiving your artifacts! A backup tape ain’t enough! Throw out that ‘the internet will provide man’ attitude. Make your stuff interoperable, open since the cultural artifacts you’re creating today may not be available to your kids tomorrow! All those digital installations, one off projects, artifacts, performances and so on! We may only have fragments of all of that if you do not deal with it today! Think of how much science we have paid for and how little data is accessible and preserved.
I also learned, that few think of legacies and future unintended uses of their stuff! Science and culture are cumulative processes, we learn from what we have done, and dang it we are reinventing wheels every day! Imagine, we have forgotten to wash our hands before cooking, the aboriginies forgot how to make boats and navigate the seas, we forgot that democracies and rights were fought for, women’s freedom was not freely won, and well, we may forget the reasons for the wars we had or why health care is a public good! If those are so easy to forget, think how easy it will be to forget about all the digital artifacts that have been created and why they were so important in the first place!
Okay! Dinner time!