biological data that are made publicly available as soon as they are generated. The rapid release of validated, high-quality data requires analysis and planning by the researchers who built the data-gathering and processing system (which requires that those researchers be rewarded for their efforts) and the design of systems that incorporate innovative automated data-quality assessment. In these cases, provisions may need to be made for continually updating data as errors are detected and improved methods are developed, resulting in databases that evolve as fields advance.
Table 2-2 summarizes the policies of federal agencies regarding data integrity and data sharing.
In the digital age, the methods used to maintain data integrity are increasingly complex. As new methods and tools are brought into practice, researchers are continually challenged to understand them and use them effectively. Furthermore, providing data to users inevitably becomes more involved as the size and complexity of databases increase. Because methods continually change as digital technologies evolve, researchers may be required to make a substantial investment of time in order to keep pace.
In some fields, the researchers themselves may be at the forefront of efforts to meet these data challenges, but in many fields the challenges are met at least in part by what we call in this report “data professionals.” These individuals have a very wide range of responsibilities for data analysis, archiving, preservation, and distribution.22 Often, they are the leaders in developing new methods of data communication, data visualization, educational outreach, and other key advances. They also often participate in the development of standards, formats, metadata, and quality control mechanisms. They can bring new perspectives on existing datasets or new ways of combining data that yield important advances. Through their familiarity with rapidly changing digital technologies, they can enhance the ability of others to conduct research. They also are in a unique position to make digital data available to the broadest possible range of researchers, educators, students, and the general public. Educational opportunities, viable career paths, and professional recognition all help ensure that data professionals are in a position to make needed contributions to research.