Jon White – From the President’s Office: The Data Debacle — To Share Or Not To Share (10-14-2019)

2020-02-10T15:34:55+00:00 October 16, 2019|

The Data Debacle — To Share Or Not To Share 

Sunday night, I watched John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” provide a humorous but accurate description of the roles of NOAA’s National Weather Service and those of commercial weather providers. In doing so, he brought into the general consciousness the very real and concerning debate around the issues of data and products that are provided by the federal government and those that are provided by private, commercial weather services. This is a piece of the broader subject of ocean and atmospheric data sharing, availability, and accessibility.

This made me think (again) about the long-standing debate around which data and derived products should be fully available to the public (and who should pay for them) and which are rightfully protected due to national security, legal, or proprietary reasons. I can’t overstate the importance of having ocean and atmospheric data and products (e.g., forecasts, tornado warnings, nautical charts, harmful algal bloom status) provided by NOAA and other federal agencies available free of charge. These are essential to public safety and prosperity. Yet there are certainly valid reasons why all data cannot be shared, and some amount of commercial sourcing of data and products should be legitimate and supported by policy that is agreed upon by scientific communities and other stakeholders.

The issue of data sharing is not new, and it’s only going to become more important as we move further into the Information Age. As advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence promise a revolutionary ability to examine, parse, and protect data in transformational ways, we must ensure our policies and practices in data management enable the requisite flexibility and agility to keep pace. Future advances will help us understand and predict changes in the ocean, atmosphere, and climate, and the overarching decisions that will be made all over the world from these data will impact lives and livelihoods. With that, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to use these tools to ensure we’re sharing everything we can and should. It’s too important for us to take a “wait and see” approach to addressing this issue; instead, we need to be making informed, all-encompassing decisions about data sharing, availability, and accessibility. After all, no one wants to be in a town that doesn’t have best possible information about an approaching hazardous weather (or ocean) event while an approaching train (or ship) has better.

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