Scientists and researchers are hard at work on solutions to overcome the COVID-19 disease and to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This requires ready access to good research infrastructures: tools and equipment, data networks and databases, and open access research materials and services that facilitate research and promote research collaboration.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown that even in exceptional circumstances, it is possible to mount an effective response – provided that competent staff and the necessary international and national preparedness are in place. The foundation for this lies in the long-term development of research infrastructures. Indeed, research infrastructures funded by the Academy of Finland are crucial to the science community ’s efforts to understand the characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the effects of the epidemic.
How have these research infrastructures been used during the corona pandemic, and how will they be used in different fields of science and research as we move forward? We are publishing a series of short pieces to shed light on these questions.
Open access and storage of research data must be ensured even in exceptional times
The main role and function of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) is to store and supply research data for further future use. Hosted by Tampere University, FSD is one of the service providers in the CESSDA infrastructure, a European network of social science data archives.
“During the corona pandemic European social science data archives have contributed to content production for the EU-coordinated COVID-19 information exchange forum and produced national information and guidelines for researchers. Some data archives have also organised remote training. The resources available to CESSDA service providers vary widely, and therefore the same goes for their ability to respond quickly to emerging information needs,” says Helena Laaksonen, Director of FSD.
In April FSD recorded an increase in the amount data downloaded for research purposes. Other uses of archive data have also increased. In the current exceptional circumstances data from the FSD have been accessible for download for research and comparative purposes in the same way as in normal times, Laaksonen says:
“In terms of data discoverability and access the coronavirus epidemic came at just the right time – although of course we’d be happier without the virus! The CESSDA Data Catalogue covers the holdings of a large proportion of the network’s service providers and therefore permits centralised search and discovery of both old and newly published data. The services available through the data archives are produced jointly based on harmonised metadata and multilingual vocabularies. It is thanks to the Academy’s infrastructure funding that we’ve been able to contribute to this cooperation and that our services are so well-tuned from this point of view.”
Laaksonen also wants to say a big thank you to Tampere University ICT Services for helping to set up a remote connection specifically tailored for FSD. It is this that has made possible the remote processing and publishing of materials as well as software development. “Just a year ago we wouldn’t have been as well prepared as we are today to continue working through the corona emergency.”
FSD’s current direct support for research on the corona pandemic includes the online platform Penna where two sets of textual data related to coronavirus subjects are being collected. One of the uses of this data collection tool is to study the effects of the pandemic on people working in the cultural industries in Finland. Furthermore, FDS has issued a coronavirus news release with examples of variables and datasets in its holdings that might be of interest to researchers exploring the effects of the pandemic.
Another role of FSD is to ensure that the corona data that are now being collected will be available for future use and so accessible to other researchers in similar situations.
“I hope that our guidelines on this matter are easy to read and understand. It’s important that we keep in mind the principles of open access to research data, data comparability and appropriate data storage for possible future needs, even in these exceptional times,” Laaksonen reminds.
High-level research infrastructures support COVID-19 research:
- High-performance computing (HPC) supercomputers harnessed to support COVID-19 research
- International infrastructure services for molecular biology and bioinformatics support coronavirus research
- Imaging technologies play key part in virus research: Finland has cutting-edge expertise
- Virus vector laboratory applies gene transfer technology to tackle corona pandemic
In addition to the research infrastructures introduced here, there are a number of other national and international research infrastructures that provide services for COVID-19 research. One useful source of further information is the ESFRI website.
The Academy of Finland provides funding for the acquisition and establishment of nationally and internationally significant research infrastructures that promote high-quality scientific research and for strengthening and expanding existing services.
- Merja Särkioja, Senior Science Adviser, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi, tel. + 358 295 335 111