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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Informatics and the Environmental Sciences


This report is on the topic of informatics and its relations to scientific research and data - rich, multi-faceted data that represent the earth and environmental systems. Data travel from field and laboratory into collections, repositories and archives. Just as data are a scientific resource, so too the work carried out with data and their organization is a resource for the environmental sciences.

Informatics is concerned with the stewardship of data, that is, with the tending of data and its flow, the design of information systems and their interfaces, and the growth of infrastructure given a distributed variety of data arenas. Enacted at the intersection of information science, environmental science and social science, informatics is evolving as we learn more about information environments and arrangements of human and technical systems. Five informatics ‘good practices’ are identified in this report:

Informatics Good Practices

1. Incorporate data problem formulation and data scoping early in the scientific planning process.

2. Recognize articulation, translation, negotiation and mediation as central to work with data.

3. Partner with appropriate information professionals for data work.

4. Create collaboration opportunities as well as coordination mechanisms for community work.

5. Recognize informatics as conducting research while carrying out information management.

The realm of informatics ranges across spatial, temporal, and organizational scales, weaving together diverse configurations, stretching over physical, digital and conceptual spaces. Many salient topics about data care remain to be discovered or investigated: data classification and provenance; data organization and modeling; data migration and data exchange; data assurance and quality control; data mediation and integration. Along with the development of roles for information professionals, we are learning about the dynamics of information environments, communities, and networks.

Informatics is happening. As we transition from use of ‘my data’ to ‘our data’, changes occur in data, collaborative, and scientific practices. Informatics provides new approaches and tools of interest to environmental scientists, information professionals, and social scientists alike.

I am an information manager privileged to work with several long-term, interdisciplinary projects within the Integrative Oceanography Division (IOD) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and as an affiliate of the Science Studies Program at UCSD with its dynamic mix of communication, sociology, history and philosophy. Regarding my agenda with informatics, it is twofold: to be a responsible data steward and to partner with environmental science researchers by creating a contemporary information environment that supports concurrently the practice of information management and the inquiry of informatics research.

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