of related journals—what analysts of science have referred to as “invisible colleges.”23)

Furthermore, some of the most interesting and productive areas of research today involve researchers from multiple disciplines working together on complex, integrative problems.24 In some cases, these areas of multidisciplinary research become so well defined that they evolve into research fields of their own, as in astrobiology. In other cases, researchers may come together to work on a multidisciplinary project and then disband once the project is over. In interdisciplinary research, different traditions of data treatment meet and sometimes clash, and new ways to gather, analyze, and store data may need to be developed to address novel challenges.

Diversity in Origins of Data

The practices for analyzing, disseminating, and storing research data vary greatly from field to field.25 For example, in some fields, observational data can be re-created by other researchers, but in other fields observations are impossible or impractical to make a second time. In these cases, observational data may need to be carefully archived for future use, including uses that cannot currently be foreseen.

Data generated through computer simulations are increasingly important in a variety of fields.26 Data generated entirely by computation can in principle be regenerated, assuming that enough is known about the hardware, software, and inputs used in the computation. However, each of these three components of a computation may be so complex or indeterminate that the computational data have some of the characteristics of observational data. Furthermore, many simulations involve random inputs, so that successive simulations will not be exactly the same. In some cases, sharing and preserving the models and software tools used to create a simulation will be more important for verifying and building upon research than sharing and preserving the data generated. In other cases, the data themselves have value and can represent such a large investment of resources that they may need to be preserved for subsequent use in the same way that unique observational data are preserved.


Daryl E. Chubin. 1983. Sociology of Sciences: An Annotated Bibliography on Invisible Colleges, 1972–1981. New York: Garland.


National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2005. Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


National Research Council. 1995. Preserving Scientific Data on the Physical Universe: A New Strategy for Archiving Our Nation’s Scientific Information. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Ghaleb Abdulla, Terence Critchlow, and William Arrighi. 2004. “Simulation data as data streams.” SIGMOD Record 33(1):89–94.

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