IDCC14 Preview: Atul Butte

28 October, 2013

The 9th International Digital Curation Conference is just around the corner and we are anticipating great discussions when our international audience gather in San Francisco in February 2014.

In the second of our series of preview posts, Atul Butte from Stanford University School of Medicine, gives us his insights into some of the current issues... 

The theme of this year’s conference is how data-driven developments are changing the world around us. What scientific breakthroughs, technical advances or potential new opportunities excite you the most?

As I mentioned in my TEDMED talk in 2011, I think the public molecular data that researchers have to share on the Internet is one of the most amazing, most exciting technologies available today. There is so much data publicly available today, but accessing and finding relevant data is very difficult today. Digital curation is a must to get to this valuable, enabling data.

Earlier this year you were recognised by the White House as an Open Science Champion of Change – congratulations! What underpins your commitment to openness?

I think open data is a great democratizer. Open data is equally available to both senior scientists as well as high school students. Open data is equally available to scientists in the United States as well as scientists around the world. I sincerely believe that if more people can learn how to use open data to generate discoveries and innovations, we could have better interventions for remaining healthy while creating more entrepreneurs and more jobs.

You worked for Microsoft and Apple before taking up a Professorship at Stanford University. What are the key lessons learned from the private sector that you have been able to transfer to your current work in biomedical informatics?

The private sector is often chastised by focusing too much on the short term, but sometimes that’s a positive trait! The public, which funds much of our research work, is looking for solutions to stay healthy, and to reduce health care costs. The private sector can teach us to move theory into practice as soon as can be done.

Your presentation will focus on your work at Stanford on how to translate data into diagnostics, therapeutics, and new insights into disease. Are there any specific messages you would like people to take away from your talk?

Big open data is a great enabler. Don’t wait for perfection in this kind of data. It is great and potent and enabling even in its current form, while always getting better.

What recent developments in the field of Research Data Management do you expect to influence conversations at this year’s IDCC?

Public data needs curation, but the role of human curators versus computational tools is an issue. The aspects of outsourcing curation versus curating in house is an issue. Getting curation from private and proprietary sources, like research publications, is an issue. While I have never attended IDCC before, I would hope these issues are discussed!


Atul's keynote talk is on Day 1 of the conference, 25 February. Draft Programme is available. 

Register for IDCC14. 

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