Data Science Takes Flight at NLM

NLM's Data Science Open House encourage collaboration amongst all member of the Library's staff
NLM’s Data Science Open House encouraged collaboration among staff.

One year after kicking off a data science training program, NLM celebrated by hosting a data science open house for staff on August 27.

During the half-day event with a flight theme, more than 300 employees collected a data science passport that could be stamped by checking out posters, participating in a trivia game, attending talks, sharing suggestions, and more.

In her introductory remarks as the NLM data science “pilot,” NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, congratulated staff for being data science frontiersmen and frontierswomen.

“Originally, folks thought about data science as a research tool. Now, we can see it’s part of our everyday activities,” she said. “At the National Library of Medicine, we are the future of data science.”

Aspects of that future were reflected in many of the event’s 77 posters, which included topics such as predicting coronary heart disease with a classification model, using natural language processing to identify chemicals in maternal milk, and predictive modeling of drug reviews.

Trivia contest at NLM Data Science Open House featuring Dr. Patti Brennan, Bart Trawick, Joyce Backus and Mike Huerta
Trivia contestants at the NLM Data Science Open House: Patricia Brennan, PhD, Bart Trawick, PhD, Joyce Backus, MLIS, and Mike Huerta, PhD.

During the trivia game, emcee Maryam Zaringhalam, PhD, posed multiple choice questions on data science to four NLM leaders: Joyce Backus, MLIS, Mike Huerta, PhD, Bart Trawick, PhD, and Dr. Brennan. They did well when asked about who can be a data scientist (answer: everyone), an alternative way to say data wrangling (answer: data munging), and the four Vs of big data (answer: volume, velocity, variety, and veracity). But they turned to the audience for help guessing how many times “data science” appears in the NLM strategic plan (answer: 62), which AI assistant was ranked the smartest by Forbes magazine in 2018 (answer: Google assistant), and what percentage of the world’s data is currently analyzed (answer: 0.5%).

In short speeches, Lisa Federer, PhD, MLIS, focused on developing the library workforce for data science; Rezarta Islamaj, PhD, shared her research on biomedical literature;  and Don Comeau, PhD, spoke about his research on indexing for literature retrieval in PubMed.

The last speaker of the day Dina Demner-Fushman, MD, PhD, discussed what makes a good data science opportunity and how problems can be solved with data. She asked, “Do we have the skills? Increasingly, the answer is ‘yes.’ From what I’ve seen today, we are ready to go forward.”

NLM's Data Science Open House encourage collaboration amongst all member of the Library's staff. And here a woman looks at a scientific poster
Data Science at NLM

By the end of the event, more than 60 suggestions for a data-science filled future covered the idea wall. On bright yellow and magenta papers, the ideas included using data to enhance existing services, the need for more training, making data fairer, and letting the world know that data science is cool. On August 27, there was no doubt that data science is cool.

By Kathryn McKay, NLM in Focus editor. A version of this article appeared in the NIH Record.

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