Meta on data

How NIH plans to modernize its approach to big data

NIH is grasping the nettle and turning its attention to solving the big practical questions about big data. Stopping short of a vision for how data science should drive discovery, NIH has laid out a strategic plan that charts a course to facilitate sharing and lower barriers to usage by modernizing its workforce and its tools.

NIH has focused on the costly, inefficient status quo of big data in biology. It found solutions in the cloud, and in reaching beyond the traditional biomedical ecosystem for new skills and ideas.

The strategic plan for data science, released last week, was prompted by a 2017 congressional request, and is intended to serve as a five-year road map for managing the deluge of data generated by NIH and NIH-funded researchers.

Its release was accompanied by the creation of an NIH chief data strategist position. Once hired, the chief data strategist will be responsible for implementing the plan in partnership with two independent NIH councils.

Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), said the plan was born of the dual need to extract actionable insights from NIH-funded research more efficiently and to cut down the mounting costs of data storage.

“It does not make sense for NIH to try to do things that the tech industry is much better suited to do.”

Jon Lorsch, NIH

“The rate of data generation actually tends to exceed the decrease in cost,” said Lorsch. “That leads

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