The Australian Academy of Science Project on “Big Data in Australian research: Issues, challenges and opportunities”

Professor Michael Barber1, Dr Ayesha Tulloch2, Professor Jane Elith3, Dr  Jana Phan1, Dr Lesley Wyborn1

1Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, Australia, 2School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, 3School of Biosciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


In 2017, the Australian Academy of Science was awarded a grant under the Australian Research Council Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects (LASP) scheme to explore issues, challenges and opportunities afforded by big data in Australian research.

The objectives of the project were to:

  1. Document the current state of Australia’s research data ecosystem to ensure Australian e-research infrastructure is globally competitive and able to support high quality research;
  2. Investigate the state of data science in Australia and consider how data science can most effectively collaborate with other disciplines that are increasingly using data and data analytics;
  3. Explore how big data and associated data technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning) are changing research itself in different scientific disciplines; and
  4. Determine a strategic framework and roadmap for data-intensive research in Australia.

This presentation will discuss five key recommendations from the study:

  1. All agents in the research ecosystem should commit to a national vision for research data generation, management, and stewardship that aligns with international standards and practices, in particular the FAIR principles;
  2. Improve coordination of current investments in eResearch Infrastructure and plan for the exascale demands in data and computation anticipated by 2030;
  3. Recognise Data Science as a new scientific discipline and enhance career pathways and reward mechanisms for data scientists in academia
  4. Urgently resolve issues pertaining to access to public data for research; and
  5. Improve ethics and transparency around the use of data and data analytics in research.


Professor Barber chairs the Board of the National Computational Infrastructure and is co-chair of an ARC-funded Study of Big Data in Australian Research being conducted by the Australian Academy of Science.   He is currently on the Council of the Academy and is its Treasurer.  In December 2014 he retired as Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University after over 25 years in senior roles in universities and CSIRO.  He is internationally recognised for research in statistical mechanics and computational applied mathematics and has made important contributions to Australian science and innovation policy.  His current interests include entrepreneurship, disruptive innovation and the role that data plays in innovation and development.


AeRO is the industry association focused on eResearch in Australasia. We play a critical coordination role for our members, who are actively transforming research via Information Technology. Organisations join AeRO to advance their own capabilities and services, to collaborate and to network with peers. AeRO believes researchers and the sector significantly benefit from greater communication, coordination and sharing among the increasingly different and evolving service providers.