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News, Science & Research

Second annual Love Data Week explores social good of data

Series of webinars discussed role of data in COVID-19, climate change, racial injustice

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Office of the Vice President for Research and the University Library co-sponsored Brown’s Love Data Week, which was hosted online this year in the form of webinars and workshops during the week of Valentine’s Day. LDW’s various events are designed to celebrate, raise awareness and build community around data management, sharing, preservation and research.

 The second iteration of Brown’s Love Data Week, this year’s theme was “Data: Delivering a Better Future.” The week was hosted as part of the international Love Data Week. 

Compared to the inaugural University’s Love Data Week last year, this year’s event focused more on “trying to give people trust back in data, showing them how data can do social good,” said Arielle Nitenson, senior research data manager in the Office of Research Integrity. 

“In the midst of COVID, the issues of climate change, opioid crisis, racial injustice and the political landscape … we really wanted to demonstrate how data can help us to really improve upon some of the issues that our nation is currently facing,” Nitenson said. 

Organizers hosted workshops focused on research methods, as well as talks and webinars targeting a broader audience. In the keynote research panel on the theme “Data: Delivering a Better Future,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health, and Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of Emergency Medicine, spoke about their perspectives on the role of data in a global pandemic, the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. and how to conduct important analyses that inform the public. 

“Data is not politics-free, and people will try their best to manipulate data,” Jha said. “But if you have high quality data and if you can explain it, sustain it and analyze it, you will force the conversation in the right direction.”  

In addressing suspicion towards the COVID-19 vaccine and how data could help, Ranney pointed to the importance of understanding where the distrust for the vaccine comes from. “Rather than saying these people are uneducated or they are just conspiracy theorists,” it’s more productive to deal with “the structural issues that make people not want to get vaccinated,” she added.

 In addition, Ranney emphasized the importance of combining data with a story to convey the truth to the public. “When we complement the data … with stories, it is often much more powerful than the numbers alone,” she said. 

In a workshop led by Ashley Champagne, digital humanities librarian and head of digital scholarship project planning, students, scholars and researchers were able to learn about the tools and strategies available for data mining and analyzing social media. Champagne pointed out that while collecting social media data, demographics are important to keep in mind because different platforms attract different audiences. 

“We are always aware of the reality that … we can only find patterns in our data based on the data we have. When the data is skewed in a given direction to be, say, written more by male users, then we have to interpret the data accordingly,” she said.

Champagne added that she hopes attendees “will (not only) gain a broad overview of the resources that are available for them both in terms of python libraries and Google archiving spreadsheets, but also in terms of the resources they have that are available to them at Brown.” 

The Brown Arts Initiative also participated in the Love Data Week for the first time to expand the conversation to the arts. The BAI has been collaborating with the DSI on a series of programs around data visualization. 

BAI’s program explored how artists with little formal education in data science can apply it to their own work, wrote Kate Kraczon, curator at the David Winton Bell Gallery, in an email to The Herald.

The virtual format of Brown’s Love Data Week allowed more speakers to host talks and increased participation amongst attendees. The research talk given by Jha and Ranney hosted over 100 people, and organizers saw an increase in attendance at both keynote panel talks and workshops in comparison to last year.

A committee incorporating specialists from different backgrounds planned this year’s events, including Nitenson; Andrew Creamer, scientific data specialist at the Center For Digital Scholarship; Torrey Truszkowski, research compliance manager in the ORI; Lynn Carlson, GIS manager in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society; Karen Crowley, manager of health data science at the Brown Center for Biomedical Informatics and Michael Santoemmo, events and meeting coordinator at the OVPR. 

Organizers were able to grow and diversify the committee this year, expanding from those “who were speakers last year and were able to help us increase the breadth of data resources at Brown,” Nitenson said.

“People are really interested in the issues our country is facing right now, so this year we are really focusing on getting the speakers that in their own right would really speak to the theme,” Nitenson said.

“Going virtual has opened up our events to a global community,” Nitenson wrote in an email to The Herald. “I can foresee a hybrid model going forward, where in-person discussion and socialization can take place, but where the knowledge offered in our events is open to everyone in a virtual capacity.”

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