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Coders and librarians team up to save scientific data

Sharon Gaudin | March 21, 2017
Volunteers rush to archive data before it disappears from government websites

At both the UNH and the Dover, N.H., events, they were working to save data from the EPA website.

Volunteers said when they went through the EPA sites, they found instances where pages or data sets already had been removed.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment on whether scientific data on its site has been removed or altered. Both NASA and the NOAA, however, said data has not been removed.

Lauren Moore, a front-end web developer and digital marketing manager with Durham, N.H.-based Blue Truck Studios, said she is passionate about protecting decades worth of scientific research and has had to learn back-end coding skills to help with the DataRefuge effort.

"It's kind of overwhelming, but I'm getting the hang of it," said Moore, who volunteered at the recent New Hampshire event. "It's definitely worth it to learn a new language and do the work."

Clarice Perryman, a National Science Foundation fellow and a graduate student in earth sciences at the University of New Hampshire, said it's worth it to volunteer what little free time she has because she's concerned about protecting scientific research.

"The websites are deep, and the web mapping is not great. You need people to go in and figure out where things link together," Perryman said. "Regardless of political context, environmental data loss is a big issue … Public access to that flow of information is important, especially when you have politicians saying climate change isn't real and issues with water aren't real.

"It's about integrity," she said.

Daniel Mannarino, a programmer with IBM, was helping with training at the New Hampshire DataRescue event. He said saving scientific data isn't a matter of politics.

"Things can get lost perfectly innocently," he said. "We need data to actually stick around… otherwise you're doing everything from scratch and there just aren't enough resources to do everything from scratch. Science is standing on the shoulders of giants, so you have to make sure the shoulders are still there or we're lost."

It has been about two months since the Trump administration took office, but DataRefuge volunteers say it's not too late to keep trying to save as much data as they can.

"There just hasn't been a chance for it all to be changed yet," Perryman said. "The White House took all mention of climate change off the [WhiteHouse.gov] website on Inauguration Day… But If the data is so great and so deep that we're having a hard time archiving it all, it's probably so deep that they're having a hard time getting to it all. Maybe we're getting to it faster than they are."

 

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