Friday, May 28, 2021

Data as leverage

The latest astronomy arxiv thing (its a thing. More than a little for many people clearly. Check Twitter.) got me thinking about the use of data and especially reduced data as leverage. 

In an ideal world we all out our final data products on a repository. Documented and free for all to use. Reduced data represents labor. Often a lot. Archiving it properly and documenting it sufficiently is even more labor. So an underlying idea is that people who performed that labor get rewarded for that somehow. A rather central tenet of observational astronomy I would say. 

But I notice some more about this particular case. The labor was probably students and Postdocs. The telescope is private and only *very* recently made any effort to be closer to public and accessible (basically a newly onboarded partner insisted on it). And I suspect this sort of using data as leverage (and thinking in terms of leverage) goes hand in hand with private telescopes. 

I can point to publicly funded telescopes as a safeguard to this. Similar senior people that had a large survey in hand could eventually not use it as leverage. The data was public and a completely different group ran it through the reduction pipeline. 

Now this is not the main thing coming out of this. There is the whole dynamic on senior people not protecting their junior colleagues again. There is the relived trauma of seeing a certain name flash by on arXiv. But it was all made possible by the fact that data is leverage. Huge part of the power play in US astronomy. As if I needed another reason to be an ``open skies" astronomer. 

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