- Open Space: The Global Effort for Open Access to Environmental Satellite Data by Mariel Borowitz
by Mariel Borowitz
Information Policy Series. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017. 432 pp. $40.00 (hardcover)
It is no surprise to anyone that data have become a central and immediate concern in our daily lives; we are overcome by data. When we communicate, we most often do so through data channels; data predict what book or movie we might next enjoy; and for social media platforms, data are us. Science has been equally overcome by data streams. Big data. Databases. Data infrastructures. Data politics. Data are powerful and economically valuable. In Open Space: The Global Effort for Open Access to Environmental Satellite Data, Mariel Borowitz examines the global satellite data industry and unpacks open access trends and how, during the last three decades or so, governments and space agencies have attempted to commodify data, only to discover such approaches are not sustainable in the long term. The dynamics of this often-repeated cycle leads Borowitz to propose a high-level model of open access policy development that can potentially be used to articulate new data-sharing policies and predict scientific data’s economic value.
Open Space seeks to answer two main questions: Why did transitions to open data by satellite agencies predate national open data initiatives? Why did many agencies follow the same general pattern of data openness and restriction, beginning with relatively “free from data provision[s] to [more] restricted policies and then back to free and open sharing?” (6, 257). Borowitz takes a case study approach to address these questions, splitting Open Space into three sections. Part 1 is foundational, where Borowitz introduces a model for data sharing and policy development. The proposed model is meant to lay out the relationship between “people and ideas: the structure and dynamics of the organizations and entities that control and influence policy-making and the key attributes of the data about which policy is being made” (15). Unlike other studies, this model draws on multiple disciplines and examines data sharing at multiple levels, from the organizational to the legislative to the technical. Borowitz then provides key definitions and literature overviews to contextualize her historical examination of open access (16). A series of [End Page 248] tables summarizes Borowitz’s model, which helps one predict a dataset’s economic value in relation to its commercial market and uses.
Part 2, the core portion of the book, comprises a series of historical case studies, ranging from the World Meteorological Association in the United States, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Meteorological and Aerospace Exploration Agencies. Together these cases illustrate the aforementioned cycle of data openness and restriction. One gets a clear sense of how agency-specific values are impacted by national-level decision makers pushing for commercialization to recover costs of data maintenance. The cases illustrate a number of approaches to the commercialization of data, ranging from completely open practices, as is the case with NASA, to tired approaches to data access, such as those imposed by Europe, Japan, and China (201–5, 226–27, 250–52, respectively). Over time, agencies found that the income generated by charging fees could not recoup the administration costs of sustaining that very model. In response, open access policies, or considerably less restrictive models, were often adopted.
Data are often formulated into two buckets: essential and non-essential. The former is vital for the safety and security of humanity, such as for weather prediction. Climate change is a strong motivator for opening up access to data, given that weather and its effects are decidedly not only national events but also global ones. Deciding what data can be shared is often a careful balance between national security interests and the facilitation of scientific study. Open Space exposes how non-Western nations fared during these rapid developments. As data satellites increasingly became the norm, surveillance on nations all over the globe also increased, meaning that Western countries often harbored vital information of interest to smaller countries not outfitted with a...