For this spotlight, we contacted Dr. Paul Schofield from the University of Cambridge to talk about his article “Big data in radiation
biology and epidemiology; an overview of the historical and contemporary landscape of data and biomaterial archives“, that he co-authored with Ulrike Kulka, Soile Tapio and Bernd Grosche.
How and/or when did you get into this field of study?
My interest in open data started with a project to rescue very large datasets on experimental exposure of mammals – mainly rodents – which were conducted between the 1950s and 1990s worldwide. It became apparent that data from many of these, which involved many tens of thousands of animals – was not in the public domain, and had in many cases not been fully analysed. As the Investigators responsible retired or died there was little institutional interest in saving the data and so the European Commission funded the European Radiabiological archive in order to collect and make the data available using modern standards. It became immediately apparent that such a platform was required for new data as well and in many ways radiation biology preempted the recent drive to FAIR data with the setting up of the STORE platform for data sharing.
Why is this article important?
Data remains scattered over resources which are often not well known. The incentive to bring together a landscape view of the main datasets was motivated by the aim of bringing these to the attention of the community to encourage data reuse and reanalysis. This impacts on the uneccessary duplication of experiments when the data is in fact already out there – contributing to reduction of costs and the sparing of animals that might be used – but it also provides the opportunity to find if there is data already in existence that could contribute to the generation of new hypotheses or to augment unpublished data in unexpected dimensions.
Where do you see your field in the next 10 years?
There needs to be more coordination and standardisation of data from radiation biology and epidemiology to encourage more sharing. There remain serious cultural and legal barriers to international data sharing and reuse which need a real change in attitude of investigators and funding agencies – fortunately I think we are already seeing excellent attitudes in younger investigators setting out on their careers, but more training is needed. Funding agencies need to take this seriously as well and at the moment this doesnt seem to be happening. Id like to say that in ten years time there will be universal data sharing driving science forwards, and a culture of sharing and integrating data, particularly so that it can be used for machine learning at scale. We are at a pivot point and I hope that this is the direction data sharing will take… we shall see!
Is there any particular article you published that launched your career?
Its hard to say that there was a specific paper that launched my career… in many ways I feel that my career has had multiple launches, but thankfully no sinkings… In the area of data sharing, I published a paper in Nature after a consensus workshop on mouse research commons that became part of a special issue, and I think this certainly was important in establishing my contribution in this area, though I should say that this was, as all science is, a team effort and I’d not like to take all the credit for it.
Schofield, P. N. et al. Post-publication sharing of data and tools. Nature 461, 171-173, doi:10.1038/461171a (2009). Funded by the European Commission.
Do you have any advice for Postdoctoral Researchers?
Aim to be the best in the world at what you do, and have enough self confidence to follow your intuition.
• What is the one job you’d love doing if you weren’t in your current occupation?
• What’s the most unusual item you have in your office?
A small can of “lobster bisque “ concentrate that I was given when I taught at a mouse pathology meeting at the Jackson Laboratory fifteen years ago. It makes a nice paperweight and Im told that its inedible – not just due to its age. Sitting on top of it is a newly cast lead musket ball; Ill leave that a mystery.
• Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star wars for sure – the Rebel Alliance in Parliament has been very important in UK politics to stave off a catastrophic Brexit
• Wine or Beer?
• Favourite food?