The place of data papers: Producing data for geography and the geography of data production

Binary Tempest LogoGeo: Geography and Environment recently published two papers on data practices in the geography. It is an accident they were published on the same day, but it presents an occasion for us, as editors, to reflect on two related issues in academic writing and publishing: the growing role of the data paper and the spatial (and often unequal) distribution of value between data production and theory generation.

It is also good opportunity to remind people we have been promoting debate on open science and data in Geo since our 2015 launch, with the opening commentary from Sabina Leonelli et al and blog responses from George Adamson and James Porter. These pieces are all worth returning to now. The issues that emerge as practices around data sharing meet academic incentives, interdisciplinary research and public outreach continue to gather pace, with data papers offering a new venue for exploring them.

The TEMPEST team have produced the first data paper published in Geo on Dealing with the deluge of historical weather data. This paper explores the practices of assembling a digital resource of historic weather data from documentary archives. It positions their work in relation to other online datasets and offers this resource as an opportunity for future research and public engagement. It also demonstrates an exciting alternative to the drive that Adamson suggests follows the “pressure to analyse, interpret and publish before any data is shared”.

We are keen to encourage more data papers in Geo, both before and after analysis. At its simplest, a data paper describes how a dataset is assembled; reflects on its context and value; and invites others to use it by linking to the data. As the TEMPEST paper indicates, these issues are always complex in practice. Data papers are thus increasingly important in enabling connections in data-rich parts of the discipline and filling gaps in data-poor areas. These topologies of data availability are often complex and increasingly political.

Academics, and others, are facing renewed questions over the value of data and access to it. Access to government data may be removed – as in the disappearance of climate change pages and animal welfare data from US websites. Access to data may be restricted by commercial interests – by excluding data points to shape narratives or introducing high costs for data use.

Conversely, for academics, providing access to data is increasingly mandated. We are being asked to invest our time and resources in curating and archiving data produced in projects by funders. We are also asked to justify why we can’t use existing datasets as we search for new funding. Currently these processes are not well linked, meaning time spent curating data and resources spent collecting new data may both be wasted.

The second paper published, by Margath Walker and Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah on Alternative visualisations of geographic knowledge production indicates the political issues in other aspects of data generation and use.  Their work maps the relation between data production and concept work in critical urban studies and critical GIS, prompting some critical geopolitical questions.

These include: who is involved in generating our data, who is included in generating theory, and where are they both located? How are credit and value distributed across these practices, how do these reproduce existing global inequalities in knowledge production, and how might we enact these relations differently?

We are used to thinking about the responsibilities we have to the stories our respondents contribute to research. But, we are perhaps less used to considering our responsibilities to data and related questions around the ownership, interpretation, openness, and access to this data. The value attributed to ‘progressing’ theory over advancing data reinforces the unequal geographies that Walker and Boamah map out.

Data papers can play a part in exploring and addressing both issues. The detailed explanation of data production in a data paper is a way of reflecting on challenges within a project and of facilitating the recontextualization of data required for reuse beyond it. They also provide a further avenue for redistributing the value from data, by acknowledging the multiple geographies and authors that underpin data production, transforming these into a published research output, and opening space for different interpretations.

We are grateful for the questions that Veale et al and Walker and Boamah have prompted about the aggregation of weather data and the geographical distribution of value through theory and data. We hope they will inspire others to explore the challenges of putting data together and the responsibilities we share in authoring data and facilitating access to it.

Gail Davies, co-editor in chief, Geo: Geography and Environment

Digital Data: Opening up the Weather Archive – Geo at #RGSIBG17

Join us on Wednesday 30 August at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference for our Geo sponsored session ‘Digital Data: Opening up the Weather Archive’ (Education Centre, session 3, 14.40-16.20), convened by Georgina Endfield (The University of Liverpool), Lucy Veale (The University of Liverpool), and Sarah Davies (Aberystwyth University).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This session brings together researchers working on weather and climate history, existing or potential end users of research databases, and custodians of manuscript weather data, to critically evaluate the construction, management, application, and implications of digital weather data. Emphasis will be placed on thinking about the future of these tools and how we can improve connections between them, both technical and geographical.

The session will also include a live demonstration of the TEMPEST database (Tracking Extremes of Meteorological Phenomena in Extent across Space and Time). TEMPEST’s c.20,000 records are drawn from primary research into original documentary sources held in archives around the UK and offer personalised and geo-referenced insights into the relationship between society and extreme weather in the UK spanning a period of over 400 years.

Audience members are encouraged to send in live queries relating to historical extreme weather events via twitter (using the conference hashtag, #RGSIBG17); the discussion will also be of interest to researchers working on databases of other kinds.

Read the associated data paper: Dealing with the Deluge of Historical Weather Data: The example of the TEMPEST (Tracking Extremes of Meteorological Phenomena Experienced in Space and Time) Database.

Veale L., Endfield G., Davies S., Macdonald N., Naylor S., Royer M.-J., Bowen J., Tyler-Jones R., and Jones C. Dealing with the deluge of historical weather data: the example of the TEMPEST database. Geo: Geography and Environment. 2017, 4 (2), e00039

Visit the associated display in the Ambulatory: A Deluge of Documentary Weather Data, curated by Lucy Veale, Georgina Endfield and Sarah Davies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This display explores extreme weather events in the UK, drawing on primary archival materials used in the AHRC funded project ‘Spaces and Experience and Horizons of Expectation: The Implications of Extreme Weather, Past, Present and Future’. It also features primary archival materials from the RGS-IBG archives, including resources relating to the meteorological investigations of the Terra Nova expedition 1910-13, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

The database and project have an audience beyond academia. The project-team has worked with the RGS-IBG Schools team to produce a range of resources for teachers and students.

Watch the online lecture: Extreme Weather – The history of human-environmental interactions and our climatic past  Georgina Endfield explores the weather histories of unusual and extreme weather events, weather memories, and human responses linked to these events in an RGS-IBG School Member Lecture. (Free to access for a limited time).

Listen to Georgina Endfield on the RGS-IBG ‘Ask the Expert’ Podcast Series
In this podcast Laura Price (RGS-IBG) spoke to Georgina about the TEMPEST. The podcast explores how and why extreme weather events have been inscribed into our cultural fabric. (Free to access).

Primary teacher guide *coming soon*
The guide aims to promote the use of the Tempest weather archive in schools, and pupil’s understanding of historical weather and climate extremes more broadly.

Animation *coming soon*
The animation, for KS4 students, introduces the historical diversity of weather experiences in the UK. Using examples from the RGS-IBG archives, it explores the environmental and cultural implications of the events.

Interested in finding out more about extreme weather geographies? Take a look at Georgina Endfield and Lucy Veale’s Discovering Britain trail, the Great Dun Fell walk. It explores the Helm wind (Britain’s only named wind), the landscape of the North Pennines, and the work of Gordon Manley, a geographer who pioneered the collection of meteorological data.

Geo: Space for Review

One year from its launch at AC2014, we want to highlight an opportunity to publish reviews in Geo: Geography and Environment. Geo welcomes high quality review papers which provide theoretical, methodological and topical analysis for advanced researchers in the field, or offer critical perspectives that engage cross-disciplinary collaborations, explore policy implications and address issues of global concern (see guidelines for authors). We are especially interested in reviews exploring what it means to assemble communities of knowledge differently and making use of the opportunities for online, open access publication.

We produce reviews in our PhDs, our grant proposals and our publications. To review is to assess and appraise. Reviews have a temporal element: looking back to assess and forward to propose change. A review is also a spatial practice: the review synthesises by defining and appraising a field. Yet, margins can be reinscribed and peripheries created in this process of producing knowledge. Situated epistemological differences may get recast as conceptual or methodological ‘problems’ to be solved by further integration with the theoretical core. There can be good reasons for an emphasis on consensus or periods of normal science. However, postcolonial, feminist and geopolitical critiques attune us to the active processes through which knowledge practices are made marginal and the implications of overly dominant scientific cultures. New practices of review have the potential to make these geographies of knowledge production more visible and so create the conditions for a different circulation and assemblage of ideas.

Innovations across the social and natural sciences, arts and humanities are advancing alternative resources for constructing and disseminating reviews. From the sciences: systematic reviews demonstrate how criteria for inclusion and exclusion can be made more explicit and accountable; large-scale data sets offer opportunities for developing and tracking the back-and-forth of new modes of co-operation; network analysis software can map evolving patterns of inter-citations and the relational transformation of their content. These have not featured widely in geographical reviews, but used reflexively, they have potential across the social and natural sciences. From the digital arts and humanities there are promising experiments in developing online platforms to support collaborative working and review; innovative visualisations of data, concepts and relations; and alternative forms and frames for data mining that value difference in previously unseen data.

Geo: Geography and Environment has space for review and we want to encourage reflection on these spaces of review. We welcome your conversations and all submissions, especially those mapping the ways in which communities of knowledge emerge and creating innovative, interdisciplinary and inclusionary spaces through review.

Gail Davies and Anson Mackay (Co-Editors in Chief)

Geo at #RGSIBG15

The many faces of flooding: Wed 2 Sept, Alumni Auditorium

We are delighted to be sponsoring a public event, ‘The many faces of flooding: Policy, science, and art’, at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Annual International Conference in Exeter this year. This panel debate will explore ways we can effectively, and fairly, build resilience to future flood events. It takes place on Wednesday 2 September (18.45) in the Alumni Auditorium, followed by a drinks reception from 20.00.

If you’re interested in flooding and climate change, you might want to take a look at some of the papers recently published in Geo on these themes:

  • Climate and its changes: a cultural appraisal. By Mike Hulme, doi:1002/geo2.5.
  • Understanding local community construction through flooding: the ‘conscious community’ and the possibilities for locally based communal action By Tracey Coates, doi:1002/geo2.6

The full list of papers published by Geo can be accessed via the journal’s website. We’re delighted that our first publications include papers by physical and human geographers, policy contributions, reviews, digital humanities papers and commentaries. There are some very exciting papers in production too, so watch this space!

Talk to us about publishing in Geo!

Both editors (Gail Davies and Anson Mackay) will be attending the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference next week, so please do come talk to us about publishing open access in Geo. Anson will be at the conference on Wednesday 3 Sept, and Gail will be at Wiley stand (in the Forum) on Wednesday 3 Sept, during session 3 (from 14.40), and on Friday from 9.30 to the end of coffee.

Mapping the “Tribes” of London

By Alex Singleton, University of Liverpool, UK

Our paper, The internal structure of Greater London: a comparison of national and regional geodemographic models, recently published in Geo, explores the geography of where we live to identify 19 distinctive “tribes” that characterise London neighbourhoods. This London Output Area Classification (LOAC) was created in collaboration with the Greater London Authority.

We employ an area classification technique referred to as geodemographics, which are a set of methods that were initially developed in the 1970s (with a model of Liverpool) by Richard Webber. Further details are given our paper, however, in brief, geodemographics are created using a computational technique that compares multiple attributes of areas (e.g demographics, employment, built structures etc.) and places them within clusters aiming to maximise similarity. These are then summarised with names and descriptions.

Within the UK, the Output Area Classification (OAC) is an example geodemographic classification, and was created on behalf of the Office for National Statistics from census data. A classification exists for both 2001 and 2011, and both were built with an entirely open methodology. However, one criticism of national classifications such as OAC is that they do not adequately accommodate local or regional structures that diverge from national patterns, which is an acute issue for London. This can be illustrated with maps of the 2011 OAC for London and the much smaller city of Liverpool.

A map of OAC SuperGroups in Liverpool. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk/#datalayer=oac11_s&layers=BTFT&zoom=11&lon=-2.8564&lat=53.4308

A map of OAC SuperGroups in Liverpool. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

 

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

The problem with the national classification in context of London is evident from these images, with the majority of London classified into 3 clusters. However, the London classification presents a much more variegated picture of London.

 

A map of OAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://oac.datashine.org.uk

A map of LOAC SuperGroups in London. Source: http://loac.datashine.org.uk

The best way to view the classification is on the website:  or you can search for your postcode – you can even let us know if you think we got your neighbourhood wrong!

About the author:

Alex Singleton is Professor of Geographic Information Science at the University of Liverpool. Alex’s Geo paper was co-authored with Paul Longley. Paul is Professor of Geographic Information Science at UCL)

References:

Singleton, A. D., and Longley, P. (2015) The internal structure of Greater London: a comparison of national and regional geodemographic models. Geo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.7.

Further reading:

  • More London-Liverpool Geodemographics Factoids:

In addition to the first UK geodemographics being created for Liverpool by Richard Webber (also a graduate of the University of Liverpool); and this paper a University of Liverpool / UCL collaboration; one of the earliest examples of area classification within the context of London includes the maps of Charles Booth created between 1889-1903 . Charles booth was a Liverpudlian philanthropist. His maps were created through direct observations, and partitioned London into a series of summarising groups which are available to view online.

  • For more on the history of geodmeographics in the US and the UK, see our other open access paper on the subject:

Singleton, A. and Spielman, S. (2013). The Past, Present and Future of Geodemographic Research in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional Geographer, 66(4), 558-567.

Reflexion: Does the logic of the University sector allow space for Open Science? A response to Leonelli et al.

By George Adamson, King’s College London, UK

How does a researcher gain legitimacy? Within the UK context legitimacy is increasingly informed by the 6-yearly Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, which drives departmental funding. Researchers must demonstrate entrepreneurial innovativeness, international relevance, and situate the wider relevance of their research against a shifting definition of ‘impact’, as well as being able to demonstrate the ability to attract and maintain a satisfied student body. In a hyper-competitive academic market, such neoliberal codes of success are increasingly important. The Open Access issue must be considered within this context.

The fields of historical- and palaeoclimatology (my own disciplines) have made large strides towards the kind of open access described in the paper by Sabina Leonelli and colleagues, recently published in Geo (Leonelli et al, 2015). Web-portals such as the National Climatic Data Center  provide a repository for the results of published climate reconstructions. Further moves are being made towards the establishment of repositories of raw data, particularly narrative information from sources such as diaries, personal correspondence and government reports. Such descriptions of meteorological variability and climate-related phenomena and activities can be used for both quantitative reconstructions of climate in the past and for a multitude of perspectives on human-environment relationships. The ongoing ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth) project, run from the UK Met Office, are envisaging a dynamical global 4-dimensional database of historical weather that incorporates data from state-of-the-art reanalysis through to cultural interpretations of climate. This is in addition to existing databases such as Euro-Climhist  and the tambora.org archive (the climate and environmental history collaborative research environment).

Such approaches are important for encouraging the cross-disciplinary work that is increasingly recognised as necessary within the field of climate change research (Hulme 2011). Online repositories also allow for a public ownership of climate data, an endeavour that can be at times frustrating, given the ways that climate data are used by some elements for personal attacks on climate scientists. This is not to say that such endeavours are imprudent. The sharing of climate data should ultimately break down, rather than reinforce disagreements. Citizen science projects such as Old Weather (oldweather.org) take public ownership even further, with non-academics actively involved in the data management process.

Such ownership, however, can only really be partial. The institutional culture outlined above creates huge pressure to analyse, interpret and publish before any data is shared. Departments, competing for ‘world class’ research outputs, are reluctant to relinquish ownership of data before outputs are be generated. The goal of ‘research for all’, as witnessed from outside the academy, is at odds with this individualised logic within. This is a long way from Science 2.0, at least within geography. To reach the point where science can be undertaken in collaboration with any interested parties would require a paradigm shift in the way that Universities are run and what is prioritised, something which could have been given more emphasis in the paper (Leonelli et al, 2015). The ongoing implications of the 2012 European Commission Recommendation (EC 2012), which recommends a fundamental change in the way academic careers are evaluated to include data-sharing, will therefore be interesting to follow. Such a cultural shift would not be unwelcome.

About the author: 

Dr George Adamson is Lecturer in Geography at King’s College London. George’s research is situated at the interface between palaeoclimatology, environmental history and climate change adaptation and policy.

References:

European Commission (2012) Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information. Accessed on 12 November 2014

Hulme, M. (2011) Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change 1 177-179

Leonelli, S. et al. (2015) Sticks and Carrots: Encouraging Open Science at its source. Geo: Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.

Geo: Geography and Environment. Open.

November 2014 has seen the celebrations for the 8th annual Open Access Week, seeking to promote open access as a new norm. It has also featured the announcement of the Anthropocene as the theme for the 2015 Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) annual conference in Exeter. Both raise questions of the relations between academic communities and academic communication, and the links between the practices of naming and the practices of research. These further prompt the question: why Geo? And why now?

Geo is the fourth geography journal, encompassing the breadth of the discipline, published by the RGS-IBG, in association with Wiley[1]. It joins three other successful Society journals, all established in different contexts, which, at their launch, drew different relations between academics, audiences, publishers and the learned society.  The Geographical Journal was launched in 1831 as the main forum for news from the RGS. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers was set up in 1935, facilitating academic communication amongst the growing group of university-based geographers.  Area followed in 1969, as a newsletter for the Institute of British Geographers (IBG), with the primary remit to share research group news.  All three have changed substantially as the institutions (RGS and IBG) have merged and evolved, and they now contribute in distinctive and complementary ways to further the work of the RGS-IBG, serve the community of academic geographers and connect readers in cognate disciplines, policy communities and the wider audience for geographical research.

These echoes appear in their names as well as their printed forms. The Geographical Journal was the regular and official record of a learned society, which both carried, and at times challenged, the structures privileging certain groups to produce authoritative geographical knowledge.  Transactions indicates the processes of exchange within an increasingly professionalised of scholarly community, building up Schools of Geography in universities in the UK. Area indicates location, but also a space allocated for a specific purpose: in this case the growing vibrancy of the research groups of the IBG, working in different sub-disciplinary areas. The scope and remit of these journals and the RGS-IBG have changed enormously since these publications were first introduced, nonetheless the geographical imaginaries in these journal titles say much about the changing sites of knowledge production and the means through which research has travelled to shape the complex disciplinary conversations that constitute Geography.

Geo joins this trajectory, but its launch indicates the landscapes of academic publishing are shifting once more.  The name Geo points towards at least three different aspects of these transformations. First, there is its own contemporary moment in the increasing ubiquity of ‘geo’ as a locational prefix to be found in the everyday landscapes of data production, circulation and dissemination. This appears in generic terms, such as the geotagging of data, geospatial analysis, or the potentials of the geoweb; but it also points to more proprietary practices such as ‘geofencing’, or popular pursuits like ‘geocaching’. It is a term which is both associated with and overspills geography’s disciplinary identity. There are a series of epistemic, as well as political, social and economic questions about how these now routinely recorded traces of location are mobilised, accessed and analysed by a wide variety of private and public institutions.

Second, in its earlier usage, and also indicated by the longer title Geography and Environment, there is the ontological aspect to the prefix of Geo in referring to the earth. This also derives its meaning in combination, drawing attention to the ways in which the materiality of earthly processes are increasingly recognised as critical constituents across both physical and human geography. This leads to renewed debates over disciplinary identity, as geography considers its position in relation to the emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’, as well as animating new questions, as a ‘geological turn’ takes root in previously disparate sub-disciplinary areas, like geopolitics or geoaesthetics.  There is more than disciplinary identity at stake in these questions. The proliferation of sites making up the distributed experiments of unintentional, and intentional, planetary geo-engineering raise significant challenges for the place, theory and practice of geographical debate.

Thirdly and finally, the title was almost an acronym; but not quite. Whilst Geography and Environment Open would have bought the two parts of the title together and made the ambitions of this first fully open access journal published by the RGS-IBG unmistakable, we held back on this point. We recognise facilitating the transition from these first steps in open access to more fully open participation across academic communities is going to be a complex part of conversations initiated by and in this new journal. But, there was a sense that as moves towards open access publishing gather pace, internationally and across interdisciplinary contexts, the explicit designation of ‘open’ in a journal title would quickly become redundant. Here we would draw attention to the recent provocations to the geographical community in Jenny Pickerill’s commentary on open access.  She concludes we need to both recognise that publishing is always political and to experiment with what works best in a period of rapid change.

We are looking forward to publishing our papers in progress and to new submissions which pick up questions over data, that progress debates over the geo, and that demonstrate how experiments with open access can contribute to new institutional norms promoting the productive redistribution of expertise.

Gail Davies, co-Editor

[1] The RGS-IBG also publishes the cross disciplinary journal WIRES Climate Change in association with Wiley and the Royal Meteorological Society.