A Domain Specialist in Their Own Words: Many Questions to Solve Before Open Science Becomes the Norm

Published: 2020-08-28

In this third interview in the A domain specialist in their own words series, we have talked to Anders Moberg. Anders works in Stockholm University, where he is a university lecturer in Physical Geography and a coordinator of the Bolin Centre Database for climate and earth system data. With extensive experience from research data management and continuous contact with researchers, Anders has been able to follow the development in increased access to data up close.

Vignette. A domain specialist in their own wordsIn his role as a domain specialist in SND, Anders Moberg, as well as his colleague Ulf Jansson, deal with matters regarding spatial data.

—The domain that Stockholm University has accepted is labelled ‘spatial data’, which is a much broader field than my own research domain, climate research. Spatial data are really any data that include geographic coordinates, meaning that it's everything that can be described in terms of space in any scientific field. I’m not an expert in all of those, but my expertise is in the spatial data that are used by climate and earth system researchers, explains Anders Moberg.

From his own research and work in other roles, Anders has extensive experience from research data in climate variations based on historical instrument observations and paleoclimatology data (data about climate from times before there were meteorological instruments). In his present work in Stockholm University, one of his roles is as coordinator for the Bolin Centre Database, where he assists researchers in making climate research data accessible. Anders tells us that research data management and data quality assurance have been a natural part of his work since he started researching.

―Ever since I was a graduate student in the early 1990s, I have worked closely with climate data, and right from the start a large part of it concerned data quality. When you work with old weather and observational data, they cannot be directly compared to observations today. You have to examine the data and make sure that you can actually see how the weather and climate have varied, irrespective of how the actual measuring has changed.

As a senior researcher, Anders Moberg has participated in several EU projects that have generated various types of climate data. Through these projects, he has collaborated with researchers who go out into the field and collect data, and with researchers who generate simulated data using climate models. He says that there is an enormous range of which types of data you encounter in his research field.

―We can have researchers who go out and collect data from seafloor sediments, from lakes, from tree rings, from stalactites in caves. But there can also be meteorologists and researchers who make various satellite measurements. What all of these generated data have in common is that they are all, in one way or another, spatial.

A questionnaire to learn about researchers’ views on sharing spatial data

In his role at the Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Anders was asked to help the research data team at Stockholm University. The research data team includes the university’s DAU (Data Access Unit), which is part of the SND national network of research data support units. Following his work with the DAU, Anders was asked to become an SND

Portrait Anders Moberg
Anders Moberg is domain specialist for spatial data in climate research.

domain specialist. Apart from offering expert knowledge in the national SND work to develop tools and services, Anders has also initiated some local activities with his colleagues in Stockholm.

―Last year my former colleague Brian Kuns, who is a human geography researcher, and I held seminars in our respective departments, where we addressed data sharing. We have also helped our researchers publish data in the SND research data catalogue. My new colleague Ulf Jansson and I are right now working on a questionnaire that will be sent to researchers in Swedish higher learning institutions who work with spatial data. This was Ulf’s idea. We want to know how researchers in different disciplines view data sharing. Have they shared any data? If so, where have they shared them? We also want to know what help and support researchers may want, what they regard as obstacles to sharing data and so on. We’re excited to see what the results will be.

Open data are here to stay, but there are many challenges

Anders Moberg meets many researchers, especially in his work in the Bolin Centre. He tells us that there is a generational shift happening, and that there is an obvious difference in how researchers today are confronted with the question of making data accessible.

―I have been in the Bolin Centre for five years and in just that time, very much has changed. When I started, we pretty much had do come knocking at the door to researchers and beg them to make their data accessible with us. That isn’t the case anymore. Now, researchers come and ask for our help when they realise that they need a DOI ‘yesterday’, when they’ve found out that the journal they’re publishing in requires it. 

Anders believes that the shift to open data is here to stay, and that we are getting more and more knowledge about how to go about it. At the same time, we get more data to manage, which requires more resources.

―If researchers are required to make data accessible, we need to have people who work to support them in that, so that it’s not just another burden. Decision-makers on EU and international levels have decided that this is the direction we’re taking, but it hasn’t really been thought through. A lot of the technical infrastructure is missing, as well as support to those who will be doing the work. There’s also no unity in who will pay for it. These problems need to be solve before open science can become a reality and a natural part of research.

In spite of the challenges, Anders mostly enjoys working with research data, and concludes with a thought about how we value the products of research.

―It would be good if research data were given a more important part in the future. Because what’s more important of a researcher’s production: the scientific article or the data? What will be of most use for another researcher in, say, 200 years from now? We can’t answer that, but I’d guess that in many cases it would be the data that are the most valuable for how research progresses. We can rethink and improve ideas, but we can’t re-collect old data.

Do you have questions about spatial data, or about how to make research data accessible?

Don’t miss this opportunity to consult with Anders Moberg and the other SND domain specialists in our digital Dosp drop-in on 9 September.


Here you can read previous interviews in the A domain specialist in their own words series.