EnvironmentSpecial Report

UC Davis Hosts DataRescue Event To Archive Climate Research

By N. J. Griffen, English, ‘17

Author’s Note:

“I chose to write about this topic as a response to one of the many uncertainties that exists under our newly elected president, Donald Trump. More specifically, this article is meant to encompass the nationwide effort by scientists, professors, researchers and archivists to safeguard, backup and protect work conducted in the realm of climate science. This topic, I believe, should be integrally important to most residents of this planet; due to the fact that we have no choice but to live the entirety of our lives here on earth. Therefore, my interview of the archivists at UC Davis seeks to uncover the motives and connotations that the DataRescue Davis event assumes.”

In a time where the availability of information seems to be infinite, it can often be forgotten that as easy as it is to publish scientific data on the internet, it is just as easy if not easier to delete it. So, the scientific community felt obligated to respond to this vulnerability. As a result, this gave birth to the DataRefuge project.

The DataRefuge project began at the University of Pennsylvania with the primary goal being to spearhead the “ identifying, assessing, prioritizing, securing, and distributing reliable copies of federal climate and environmental data so that it remains available to researchers.” Due to the immense amount of climate and environmental research that happens at UC Davis, researchers felt the need to get involved.

An ample amount of support was shown towards this idea, and so a formal event was planned. Publicized on Facebook by the UC Davis Library, the DataRescue Davis event welcomed all who desired to help in the process of preserving scientific research.

The DataRescue Davis event was held on Feb. 2, aiming to backup environmental and climate science data sets in partnership with the DataRefuge project’s archival system. Although archiving data of this sort had largely begun in 2008 during the Obama Administration, the Trump administration has incited a newfound urgency. This comes in turn with Trump’s recent order for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to purge their website of all climate change information.

By speaking with Kevin Miller, University Archivist, and Vessela Ensberg, Associate Director of the Data Management Program, the specificities of the DataRescue Davis event were made clear.

“The event here itself was on the third floor of the library in the data science initiative space,” Miller said. Furthermore, he emphasized the fact that they were at full capacity for the event with a mix of both undergraduate and graduate participants. Most pleasantly surprising, expressed the pair, was that they ended up hosting a majority of technically sound website crawlers. This allowed them to give proper attention to novice participants, while also being able to keep productivity up.  

Since this project is by nature political and set within an academic atmosphere, the archivists allowed its participants to remain anonymous as long as they had a desire to contribute. “We didn’t necessarily know a lot about the people who showed up, because we wanted to keep open the option of anonymity,” Miller said. “We wanted to keep it a safe space, but we had a sense that the majority of them had a UC Davis connection.”

Both Ensberg and Miller reiterated that the archiving of data will always be important — “the more copies, the better” is their agreed upon philosophy. By virtue of this, Miller said that their jobs are agnostic of political attachments. Yet, Miller did not think that the DataRefuge project as a whole was absent of an opinion.

“In terms of DataRefuge, I think that it is a direct response to the federal administration,” Miller said. The DataRefuge project uses servers over the northern border in Canada, which as an action standing on its own implies thorough suspicion towards the Trump administration’s agenda.

“I think there was some fear that climate and environmental data was particularly susceptible to being suppressed,” Miller said. “Because of shifting priorities in the administration, there may be less money going to support access to this material.”

The event proved to be successful, both Ensberg and Miller are continuing to organize the data sets acquired. “There was a lot of enthusiasm, so we don’t rule out another event,” Ensberg stated. “But we’re still finishing up work from the past event.”

In the following weeks, there will be a slew of likeminded DataRescue events being held throughout the country.

All future and past DataRescue events can be seen here.

Sources:

  1. “About DataRefuge.” DataRefuge.org. 27 Feb. 2017. Web. (https://www.datarefuge.org/about)
  2. “Donald Trump orders Environmental Protection Agency to delete all climate change information from its website.” independent.co.uk. 25 Jan. 2017. Web. (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/donald-trump-environmental-protection-agency-website-climate-change-global-warming-a7544621.html)

Edited by: Connie Chen, Chantele Karim, and Nicole Strossman