Editorial 2/2012

When the Laptop Packs Up

Sami Borg

First the bad news: the title refers to a real life situation where research data had been stored into a laptop with no backup files elsewhere. The good news: FSD staff managed to revive the hard drive and save the data. The laptop soon went to its grave but the valuable longitudinal data, which had required years of work, were saved and archived for reuse.

In these matters, we should all take a look in the mirror. Do I take long-term preservation of research data seriously and adopt a systematic approach to it? Do I have a clear system for naming and storing files, managing different versions and maintaining regular backups? Do I keep the original version and the most recent version saved in several copies in multiple safe places? And can I be sure that my data are safe, accessible and usable far into the future in case I or someone else needs it?

I have never tried to get insurance for the research data I have collected. However, in social sciences, many important research data require a vast amount of work and funding. Objects, motor vehicles or property of corresponding financial value would self-evidently and routinely be insured.

So let us play with the insurance idea. Requests to insure data might well astonish insurance companies. They would probably ask the usual questions. Who owns the data? What is the value and how and where are the data preserved? – Would I be able to answer these questions?

The company would probably soon come to the conclusion that insuring digital research data is not a profitable business model. Why? Because it is easy and legal for researchers to copy and preserve the data themselves. So it’s up to them to organize it.

If needed, it should always be possible for university staff to consult the IT support of their unit or other local experts on how to manage data and data files. And FSD is there to provide support and advise on data management planning and long-term preservation of data.

Incidentally, the data saved from the laptop that packed up are introduced in an article in this bulletin.

Sami Borg