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Meeting Summary—Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities

The Council of Scientific Society Presidents met May 9-11, 2016, in the magnificent facilities at the Carnegie Institution for Science, as part of a new collaboration with this long-standing science and education institution a few blocks from the White House. Carnegie President Matthew Scott, an eminent researcher from Stanford, and CSSP Executive Committee Chair David Penrose, a freshwater biologist with the University of North Carolina, Ashville, welcomed about 40 attendees representing 27 scientific societies.

The meeting format reflected attendees’ feedback to have more information that is useful to them as a society leader.

Following are some of the highlights of the three-day meeting. We are in the process of getting permission to distribute/post the PowerPoints given during the meeting. See photos from the meeting at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sciencepresidents/albums/72157668743904186 

The Challenge of Managing Cyber-Data: The State of Data Integrity, Data Curation, and Digital Preservation

In scientific research, public policy making, medicine, and commercial enterprises, data are the raw materials for research and decision making.  These digital materials (ever more diverse types of data) include instrument and sensor recordings, experimental data, records of discrete events (e.g., meteorological conditions, astronomical measurements) which cannot be recorded a second time, encapsulate the memories of our society, and provide evidence for contemporary decisions.  They are resources of increasingly significant scientific value (e.g., data science, validation of science), reuse in the context of other data to enable discovery through data analytics, and have social value and economic potential.  However, in common with all digital materials, data are fragile, highly dependent upon software and systems, and without effective management in information systems highly prone to loss of meaning and inaccessibility. The increasing scale at which we are producing data, the diversity of ways we are producing them, and the variety of ways that we are representing, processing, and storing them puts their long term accessibility at risk.  Digital curation provides data management strategies to secure the value of digital entities, such as data, across time and technology environments.  Digital curation involves active and continuous processes and methods to maintain the accessibility and viability of digital materials in the face of changing technologies and shifting socio-cultural contexts.

As far as data are concerned, we live in both a “cool” and “frightening” time. Attendees were treated to three experts who examined the state of data integrity, curation, and preservation from three different perspectives. They examined the constraints on long-term access to digital data and the processes which we can put in place to better manage our data.  They examined issues surrounding digital curation methods and practices, approaches to long-term data management, the role of policies, costs, and mechanisms for ensuring data resilience, accessibility and reusability in the context of information risk and change. The session focused on the challenges of managing cyber data in today’s environment, including intelligent uses of information technology and networked information, development of data grids, digital libraries and preservation, and public access.

CSSP members attending the meeting were challenged by Liz Lyons and Reagan Moore in particular to think about how they could advocate for more transparent, open data curation, and scholarship. We were asked to think about how CSSP could help build capacity and capability for data curation, how it could support sustainable digital research, and engage new research service models. The discussion centered on an increased role for scientific societies to provide input on what should be preserved.

Dr. David Ribes, Associate Professor, Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle: “What is data integration ‘made of’? An ecology of HIV/AIDS research infrastructures.”

Dr. Liz Lyon, Visiting Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh:  “Open Science and Open Data: Data Curation Challenges and Future Opportunities.”

Dr. Reagan W. Moore, Chief Domain Scientist, Data Intensive Cyber Environments, RENCI, Chapel Hill, NC: “Policy-based data management.”

Using Data to Make Better Decisions

 Following the first day’s session on the challenges around Big Data, this session was designed to help attendees learn from their colleagues how they have used data to make decisions for their organizations to function more efficiently. The topics covered include using sophisticated models of membership to improve recruiting, retention and diversity; using data and the human element to create top journals that serve science and scientists; and using member input to make data-driven decisions. This session provided ample time for attendees to ask questions after each presentation.

One of the most illuminating presentations delved into a demographic model analogous to the lifecycles of insects that was created to optimize recruiting, retention, and diversity efforts by thinking of members in the various stages of their career: student member, student transition, early professional, member, honorary, emeritus, family member, president circle and sustaining associate. The Entomological Society of America is analyzing data more often, creating new membership campaigns, and putting more emphasis on retention.

The speaker on creating new journals was full of interesting data and case studies on launching new journals. And the final speaker described in detail how to set up an ongoing member panel that is used routinely to help understand possible new programs and activities.

Dr. Robert N. Wiedenmann, Professor of Entomology, University of Arkansas and Past President, Entomological Society of America, was titled “Using a demographic model to optimize recruiting, retention, and diversity efforts.”

Jasper Simons, Executive Publisher, American Psychological Association: “Two Sides of Scientific Society Publishing: Data vs. Human Judgment.”

John Tidwell, Assistant Director for Membership and Scientific Advancement Research and Brand Strategy, American Chemical Society: “Using Member Panels for Making Data Driven Decisions: Pros and Cons.”

Roundtable discussions about Society Challenges and Opportunities

 At lunchtime, members discussed best practices and challenges facing CSSP member organizations. Among the opportunities/challenges described:

  • Having a video contest in which graduate students submit short videos describing their thesis work. The top 20 receive one year memberships. A novel way to reach a particular demographic
  • Putting students on boards of directors. Increases diversity in decision making
  • Leadership training as a value proposition
  • Continuing education credits and certification as a value proposition
  • Creating communities of interest that are more nimble than standard committees
  • Using social media more effectively
  • The popularity of cascading megajournals and increasing trend toward open access
  • Continued focus on international members
  • Offering membership registration rates to sister societies as a way of increasing attendance at meetings

 Frontiers of Science

 A popular ongoing feature of CSSP meetings are three speakers who are pioneers in various fields of science. Many attendees enjoy this session to learn about cutting edge research that is far afield of their own research interests and society focus. The three topics and speakers were:

Dr. David Shoemaker, Director, MIT LIGO Laboratory: “First Detection of Gravitational Waves”

Dr. Robert Epstein, Director, American Institute of Behavioral Research & Technology: “The Surprising Impact of Invisible Influence on Human Thinking and Behavior.”

Dr. James Allison, Distinguished Chair in Immunology, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX: “New Immune T-Cell Checkpoint Blockade Strategy”

 Next Generation Science Standards 

The Next Generation Science Standards will affect how future scientists are educated, as well as scientific literacy. Science education experts described the standards and their impact on STEM workforce development and public understanding of science. This session was an eye opener to all attendees. There are three dimensions to these standards: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. The concept is that science is both a body of knowledge and the process that develops and refines that body of knowledge. It is also a social process.

The introduction by Malcolm B. Butler, CSSP Executive Board Member and President, Association for Science Teacher Education, and Carolyn Hayes, President, National Science Teachers Association, set the stage for the session by giving a brief history of the evolution of this session and a broad overview of NGSS. Hayes discussed the number of states that have adopted the NGSS and also talk about the far-reaching impact the NGSS has had on districts in states that have not adopted the standards, and on states that have adapted the standards. She shared statistics from NSTA.

Heidi Schweingruber, Director of the Board on Science Education at the National Research Council (NRC), gave the background on the need for new standards; the Framework, including how and why it was developed and its research-based recommendations for a three-dimensional approach to science education; and the creation of the NGSS.

A “hands-on” session showed attendees what NGSS looks like in the classroom. It focused on the nature of matter by having participants observe the phenomenon of compressing air in a syringe and developing a model that explains that phenomenon. Participants will then observe a video of a classroom where students engage in discourse to explain the model. The presenters for this portion of the session were:

Brian J. Reiser, Professor of Learning Sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University

Michael Novak, Middle School Teacher, Park View Elementary School, Morton Grove, Illinois, and Adjunct Faculty, Learning Sciences and MSEd Programs and Researcher, Center For Connected Learning, Northwest University

 Finally, a panel discussion and Q&A were held around these questions: What are the systemic changes that need to occur to support the successful implementation of the NGSS? Who are our critical friends, audiences, and partners that need to be engaged in supporting the successful implementation of the NGSS? What role can/should they play? What are the challenges of NGSS implementation and what strategies are being/can be used to address them?

Moderator: Carolyn Hayes, NSTA President


Heidi Schweingruber, Director of the Board on Science Education at the National Research Council (NRC)

Patricia Simmons, Professor, North Carolina State University; 2011-12 NSTA President

Michael Novak, Middle School Teacher, Park View School Morton Grove, Illinois, and Adjunct Faculty, Learning Sciences and MSEd Programs and Researcher, Center For Connected Learning, Northwest University

Brian Reiser, Professor of Learning Sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University

Malcolm Butler, Professor of Science Education and Coordinator of Secondary Science Education Degree Programs, University of Central Florida; current ASTE President

Aqueelha James, Planning Principal, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Washington, D.C.

Leadership in Scientific & Engineering Sciences: Making a Difference for Your Society

This was another topic suggested by members. How do you make an impact on your society when your term of office is at most a few years?  How do you lead an organization to the next level of excellence and leave a lasting legacy?  The speaker explained how elected officers can contribute to lasting change. Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr., Past President (2005), American Chemical Society, and Past Chair of Board (2012-2014), shared his unique perspective on how elected officers of scientific and engineering research societies can contribute to lasting change. Among the topics he discussed were: How do you make an impact on your society when your term of office is at most a few years?  How do you lead an organization to the next level of excellence and leave a lasting legacy?  What are the most effective ways of interacting with the Executive Director/CEO and other staff of your society?

Talking to Congress

Jennifer Douris, Government Affairs Director of SPIE, gave a great presentation on the most effective way to talk to your representatives. She provided an insider’s perspective on the inner workings of Capitol Hill offices and the current political landscape. She spent a significant amount of time talking about society coalition efforts to improve conference travel for the S&T community and how your representatives could help improve the system. Talking points were distributed.

Committee Meetings

 Six newly restructured committees met to plan policy papers and sessions for the December meeting. Not all the information from these reports have been digested.

Committee on Science: Reviews and updates policies, develops new policies, plans programming. It discussed policies on water; future energy; and the water, food, energy nexus;

Committee on STEM Education: Reviews and updates policies, develops new ones, plans programming. It discussed policies, retired two old ones, agreed to revise two others; considered another session on NGSS.

Committee on Public and Government Affairs: Reviews and updates policies, develops new ones, plans programming, develops Congressional briefing topics. Discussed a position paper on appointing a science advisor to the president, increasing support for funding scientific research, ensuring quality STEM education, reaffirming the principle of scientific merit, and supporting measures to protect the environment and improving the quality of life. It suggested boilerplate for all policy statements; agreed to suggest people for the new administration; and sunsetted a wide variety of policy statements.

Committee on Association Best Practices: Develops programming at every CSSP meeting to ensure that members learn about best practices of associations in general and CSSP members in particular. Agreed to post resources for recruiting, retaining, and mentoring members on the web; do a survey of societies; develop position papers on federal travel and work with Publications committee on open access; suggested a session on Leading in the Next Era in December that would touch on alternate funding models and core revenues and meetings. It agreed to consider a system for mentoring new leadership, establish a reading list of leadership books on the webs, and discuss a process for evaluating CEOs.

Committee on Scholarly Publication and Data: Reviews and updates policies, develops new policies, plans programming. This committee had a number of position papers that need updating and also suggested several sessions and a free standing workshop.

Committee on Ethics: Reviews and updates policies, develops new policies, plans programming. Agreed to rescind the ethical cloning session and to develop two statements on gene editing and search engine manipulation.

Fred Kavli Science at the Frontiers Lecture and Event

We were also delighted to have Dr. Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, talk on the gene editing technique known as CRISPR. This technique was named the “Science Breakthrough of 2015” by Science magazine, and Dr. Doudna, one of the discoverers of this technique, delivered the CSSP Fred Kavli Science at the Frontiers Lecture on Monday night, May 9. After her talk, there was a Q&A with Frank Sesno, Director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, with questions from the audience. Prior to her talk, CSSP Executive Chair David Penrose and Chair-Elect Robert Barsley presented the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren with the CSSP Support of Science Award.

Watch Jennifer Doudna on YouTube at this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGdn4iAnrJw