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Ten Simple Rules for the Care and Feeding of Scientific Data

Two pages (scan) from Galilei's Sidereus Nuncius (“The Starry Messenger” or “The Herald of the Stars”), Venice, 1610

Two pages (scan) from Galilei’s Sidereus Nuncius (“The Starry Messenger” or “The Herald of the Stars”), Venice, 1610

In the early 1600s, Galileo Galilei turned a telescope toward Jupiter. In his log book each night, he drew to-scale schematic diagrams of Jupiter and some oddly moving points of light near it. Galileo labeled each drawing with the date. Eventually he used his observations to conclude that the Earth orbits the Sun, just as the four Galilean moons orbit Jupiter. History shows Galileo to be much more than an astronomical hero, though. His clear and careful record keeping and publication style not only let Galileo understand the solar system, they continue to let anyone understand how Galileo did it. Galileo’s notes directly integrated his data (drawings of Jupiter and its moons), key metadata (timing of each observation, weather, and telescope properties), and text (descriptions of methods, analysis, and conclusions). Critically, when Galileo included the information from those notes in Sidereus Nuncius [1], this integration of text, data, and metadata was preserved, as shown in Figure 1. Galileo’s work advanced the “Scientific Revolution,” and his approach to observation and analysis contributed significantly to the shaping of today’s modern “scientific method” [2].

Today, most research projects are considered complete when a journal article based on the analysis has been written and published. The trouble is, unlike Galileo’s report in Sidereus Nuncius, the amount of real data and data description in modern publications is almost never sufficient to repeat or even statistically verify a study being presented. Worse, researchers wishing to build upon and extend work presented in the literature often have trouble recovering data associated with an article after it has been published. More often than scientists would like to admit, they cannot even recover the data associated with their own published works.

Click here to read more from this April 24, 2014 PLOS article by Alyssa Goodman et al.

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