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Social And Computational Scientists Asked To Design Methods And Tools For Analyzing Large Data Sets

March 16, 2011

Round two of an international grant competition designed to spur cutting edge research in the humanities and social sciences begins today. Called the “Digging into Data Challenge,” the competition promotes large-scale, international and interdisciplinary analysis of large data sets.

The competition asks interested scholars to design methods and tools to analyze large data sets associated with a million books, or a million pages of newspaper, or a million songs, for example. The best proposals receive research grants from an international group of funding agencies.

Teams comprised of researchers in the humanities, social sciences, computer sciences, information sciences and other fields may participate.

The first round of the Digging into Data Challenge sparked enormous interest from the international research community and led to funding eight cutting-edge projects. “The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) and the other funders hope to again attract a large number of outstanding proposals,” said Elizabeth Tran, an associate program officer for SBE.

Last year, NSF was a Digging into Data Challenge cosponsor along with three other funding agencies: the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee, Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This year’s challenge adds the United Kingdom’s Arts & Humanities Research Council and Economic & Social Research Council, the Netherlands’ Organization for Scientific Research and the United States’ Institute of Museum and Library Services, bringing the total to eight research funders.

“By adding more partners on both the domestic and international sides, we will be able to increase the funding rate for the challenge and also its geographic scope,” said Tran.

The projects funded in last year’s first round ranged from a scheme to integrate a vast collection of textual, geographical and numerical data to create a visual presentation of U.S. railroads and their impact on society over time to another project that analyzes the spread of ideas during the Enlightenment based on a body of 53,000 letters written in the 18th-century.

“Because many of these projects would have difficultly securing adequate funding from any one agency, it is clear that the Digging into Data Challenge has helped to address a gap,” said Tran.

Final applications will be due June 16, 2011. Further information about the competition and the application process can be found on the Digging into Data Challenge website.

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