On 15 May 2018, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) published a report on an exploratory study on big data. The study’s aim was to identify potentially far-reaching implications of big data for scientific research. The report concludes: “Big data offers new opportunities to enhance research in the Netherlands in many different areas of application. If the Netherlands takes advantage of these opportunities, it can boost its international reputation in big data research and attain a prominent position in academic research.
Using big data can have far-reaching implications for scientific research. Big data does not only include data assembled in order to conduct scientific research, but also data collected for other purposes, of which there is a rapidly growing stream, for example Twitter data and consumer data. The KNAW has set up a ‘Big Data’ committee to carry out a wide-ranging foresight study of the effects of big data on scientific research, from the perspective that Dutch science can acquire a leading position internationally in the field of research using big data. The emphasis is on scientific disciplines that work with data about people.
The committee addressed the following main questions:
- How, and to what extent, is scientific research changing due to big data?
- What are the opportunities and threats to the application of big data in scientific research in the Netherlands?
- How can we seize those opportunities and counter those threats, and under what conditions can such research be facilitated?
- What are the limits to the use of big data for scientific research, and under what conditions is such research allowable (including legally)?
- Is the quality of big data sufficient for scientific research, and what issues demand attention if the quality of big data is to be ensured?