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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Follow the Data: How astronomers use and reuse data


We analyze the people and infrastructure involved in the building, sustaining, and curation of large astronomy sky surveys. Our research assesses what new infrastructures, divisions of labor, knowledge, and expertise are necessary for the proper care of data. Between May 2011- February 2012, we conducted fourteen interviews employing Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data use as the focus. SDSS is a multi-faceted, multi-phased data-driven telescope project with hundreds of collaborators and thousands of users of the open data. The Follow the Data interview protocol identifies a single publication authored by each interviewee and uses it as a lens looking backward and forward to identify data uses leading into and out of the publication. The interviews revealed the ways these astronomers discover, locate, retrieve, and store external data for their research. Any given astronomy research project may employ multiple methods to discover, locate, retrieve, and store multiple datasets. Our research finds that informal and formal methods are used to discover and locate data, including person-to-person contact. Data retrieval and storage methods are often determined by the size of the dataset and the amount of infrastructure available to the researcher. Astronomy research practices are evolving rapidly with access to more data and better tools. The poster presentation will report further on how those data are used and reused in astronomy. Sands, A., Borgman, C. L., Wynholds, L., & Traweek, S. (2012, October 29). Follow the Data: How astronomers use and reuse data. Poster presented at the ASIS&T; 75th Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from

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