NordForsk at AAAS annual meeting
This year the international, non-profit organisation AAAS held its annual meeting on 12–16 February in San Jose, California, just south of San Francisco. San Jose has become known as the capital of the Silicon Valley’s innovation community and was thus a natural fit for the event to underscore this year’s theme, “Innovations, Information and Imaging”.
NordForsk participated in order to spread the news about Nordic research cooperation to researchers, institutions, organisations, politicians and administrators, as well as to keep abreast of the latest developments on the international research front. Visitors flocked to NordForsk’s stand to learn more about the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI), the Joint Nordic Initiative on Arctic Research Responsible Development of the Arctic and other joint Nordic research initiatives.
In general, the annual meeting focused more on research findings than on research policy, compared to the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF), the younger, smaller European cousin of the AAAS event, most recently held in Copenhagen in 2014.
Visualisation of scientific data
This year’s AAAS theme, “Innovations, Information and Imaging”, reflects among other things the fact that today’s research activities generate vast amounts of data and that new data processing methods will be required to handle and make use of the sheer volume. This is a challenge in itself, and in recent years researchers have begun to manage data in innovative ways.
Most Nordic research groups are still in the early stages when it comes to utilising large amounts of data and linking together large data sets in order to enhance our understanding of the world we inhabit. But progress is being made. Changes are taking place in the conventional way of conducting scientific inquiry: the process no longer necessarily begins with a hypothesis. The starting point may now be, “What interesting connections can we find within this data?”, particularly when multiple data sources are linked together.
This is where visualisation of data can open up useful ways of finding information. Computers are better than people at quantifying, retrieving and systematising information. Humans, however, are superior at processing unstructured information. In many disciplines that rely heavily on knowledge based on large amounts of data, scientists are experimenting with how to combine the strength of computers in processing large amounts of structured information with human expertise in assessing options and making choices. Examples are as diverse as selecting treatments for patients and better planning of mass transit in densely populated areas.
NordForsk places overall high priority on research infrastructure, which is providing the framework for activities in more and more disciplines. NordForsk also specifically targets new statistical methods and data algorithms in the field of eScience, particularly under the Nordic eScience Globalisation Initiative (NeGI) and through the efforts of the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration (NeIC), as well as through other projects. One focus of these activities is method development for optimal harvesting of information from vast amounts of data, and for processing big data using cloud computing.
Text: Jostein Sundet and Linn Hoff Jensen
Photo: Anne Riiser