Monday 29 April 2024

Guest Blog: Data as environment, environment as data. One Health in collaborative data-intensive science

by Lucilla Barchetta (@lucilla_ba)

One Health considers health as interdependent across humans and non-humans. Its development is thus necessarily interdisciplinary, posing a number of challenges in ontoepistemic terms. Increasingly, technology and big data are seen as the solution to these challenges, allowing to aggregate heterogenous data. This article’s argument is that technology does not eliminate the need to agree on shared epistemological premises across disciplines, and this takes time and efforts of social coordination. 

Drawing insights from ethnographic field research, the article introduces the concept of ‘data as environment.’ Data isn’t just about bits and bytes; it’s about an interconnected structure that weaves together knowledge systems, individuals, processing tools, and bio-social interactions in the complex tapestry of data-intensive knowledge co-production. This environment becomes a contact structure, entangling not just data, but the very essence of collaborative efforts across biomedical, environmental, and social sciences. 

The concept of ‘data as environment’ is different from previous similar concepts such as “data infrastructures,” “data ecosystems,” “data communities,” “data journeys,” “data collaboratives” and “data cultures” because it does not posit something called “data” as distinguished from something called “environment”. Instead, we conceive data itself as an environment, a structure of contact that emerges in putting into relationship various elements, activated by use, maintenance and slippages. We, thus, address the mainstream criticism that data are self-contained bits, enclosed and autonomous objects, extracted and abstracted from the flux of becoming. 

The article makes a compelling point by unravelling political-ethical questions embedded in the emerging technoscientific worlds of the Anthropocene. It goes beyond the surface of data, prompting us to ponder the ethical implications and societal dimensions of the evolving landscape of data-intensive science. 

In essence, this article beckons us to embrace a holistic understanding of research – where data is not just information but an environment that shapes and is shaped by the collaborative efforts of diverse scientific subjectivities and entities. As we navigate the complexities of the Anthropocene, this exploration of 'data as environment' becomes a crucial lens through which we can better comprehend the dynamic interplay between data, knowledge, and the evolving landscape of interdisciplinary collaboration.