The 10 commandments of experimental data

Here is the original French version by Charles Nepote:
Les 10 commandements de l'expérimentation data

  1. À apprendre, pas forcément à réussir, tu chercheras
  2. Des hypothèses tu formuleras ou l’exploration tu assumeras
  3. Tes réussites comme tes échecs tu partageras
  4. À la diversité des profils et contributeurs tu veilleras
  5. Frugalité, agilité, simplicitétu chériras
  6. Un accès aux données tu obtiendras
  7. De l’intérêt des données tu ne préjugeras pas
  8. Dans des univers nouveaux, les données tu chercheras
  9. Face aux données, un esprit critique tu garderas
  10. À ces principes tout le monde adhérera

And my quick-and-dirty English translation:

  1. You will seek to learn rather than succeed
  2. You will formulate hypotheses or take an exploratory approach
  3. You will share both your successes and your failures
  4. You will be alert to diversity among candidates and contributors
  5. You will seek frugality, agility, and simplicity
  6. You will make your data accessible
  7. You will not prejudge the appeal or point of your data
  8. You will seek data in new fields
  9. You will maintain a critical eye when faced with data
  10. Everyone will adhere to these principles

Sounds like an excellent manifesto.  Feel free to improve upon my translation!

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Anthology of interest

A mixed bag of interesting things from last week:

qwant

  • Trombino at Festival du court métrage Clermont-Ferrand – fab way to display conference delegates’ photos and affiliations (and it’s searchable).  As well as being there on the website, it was also showing on a large screen at the conference centre (randomly switching between images every few seconds).  I can imagine this working well at an event like UKSG Conference.

trombino

Recent recommended reads: governance, geography, feminism

In an era of disinformation, educating yourself and others is an act of resistance 🙂 Here are my recent highly recommended reads:

The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe [publisher | WorldCat] – gives an overview of some examples of bad government decision-making, and then outlines the circumstances which allowed these blunders to happen.  There are lessons here for all organisations – for example:

  • Brainstorming Murphy’s Law – think about all the things that can go wrong, and plan for them.
  • Objection is often misconstrued as obstruction – listen to criticisms and pay attention to potential pitfalls.
  • Ensure that the people responsible for the idea are accountable for the outcome.
  • Rather than just focusing on lauding innovations, which may be poorly thought-out or badly delivered, reward those whose initiatives are still in place several years down the line.

Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics by Tim Marshall [publisher | WorldCat] – a fascinating tour of how physical geography influences borders and nations.  “Strip out the lines of nation states, and the map Ivan the Terrible confronted is the same one Vladimir Putin is faced with to this day.”

Men explain things to me by Rebecca Solnit [publisher | WorldCat] – I would particularly recommend this 2014 edition, with its beautiful paintings by Ana Teresa Fernandez.  Seven essays on the theme of gender and power – essential reading for everyone.

Conflicting priorities on information security

EBSCO have just released a White Paper “from our partner, OpenAthens”, The Evolution of Authentication and the Importance of Information Security.

The focus is very much on the information security of EBSCO’s subscription content.  There is no mention of user privacy, despite the fact how individuals want their data to be used is often in conflict with how corporations want to use this information.

Rather like the Leave campaign’s messages that voting for Brexit would be all gains and no losses, ignoring the complexity of complex decisions creates blind spots and vulnerabilities in systems and societies.  I would like politicians and corporations to stop patronising us with simple, comforting, false solutions and engage bravely and intelligently with difficult decision-making.

Observe what happens if you click on “Download your copy for free today to continue reading”:

Please fill out the form to receive your free copy of The Evolution of Authentication and the Importance of Information Security. Fill out the form and immediately receive the white paper. The fields requested are: Name, Email, Organization Name, City, Phone. All fields except Phone are required.

je dis ça, je dis rien

See also: EBSCO EDS and Single-Sign On, and Consumer democracy? (reference to Adam Curtis’ film Bitter Lake, describing how politicians create oversimplified good vs evil stories rather than confronting the realities of a complex world).

EBSCO EDS and Single Sign-On

OpenAthens Single Sign-On (SSO) is a SAML-compliant Shibboleth-type authentication method used for University login to a wide range of electronic resources.

SSO works by mediating between an identity provider (e.g. a university, checking that the user’s account is current), and a service provider (e.g. a database, to which the user’s university has a current subscription).  Here’s a diagram of the data flow:

Authentication data flow. Image credit University of Florida.

Authentication data flow. Image credit University of Florida.

Critically, the identity provider and the service provider don’t communicate directly.  The user’s personal credentials are not transmitted to the service provider; just that their identity has been verified.

This means that when someone logs in to a database or journal platform, they are greeted by “Welcome, University of Sunderland user” or “You are logged in as University of Sunderland”, but the database or platform does not know anything further about their identity.

Why does this matter?  Service providers’ servers may be located anywhere in the world, often outside the EU.  The Data Protection Act 1998 controls how personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government.  It requires that data controllers (organisations etc) handle personal data according to people’s data protection rights, and do not transfer it outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection.

Recently, EBSCO have started promoting the use of an enhanced version of SSO which means that a user will be authenticated into EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) and simultaneously logged in to their personal folders.  This will sound very appealing to many EDS customers, as currently the personal folders require the user to log in (again) with their EBSCOhost account (yet another userID and password to remember).  With the standard SSO setup, this would not be possible, so I started asking questions about what additional data exchange would be needed in order for the user to be individually identified.

Email from EBSCO:

Essentially the only requirement for setting up SSO is that your shibboleth releases a persistent unique ID. However we generally recommend releasing other attributes:

Which user data attributes must be included within the IdP-generated SAML assertion?

Only a unique user ID (e.g. employee ID, organization-specific email) is required to be sent in the SAML assertion. It is recommended that First Name, Last Name and Email also be sent to better support sharing and email from within the EBSCO user interface.

At the mention of persistent unique ID, I started to wonder about the data protection law implications.

I followed this up with a phone call, asking about compliance with data protection law.   It seems that this query hadn’t previously arisen in the UK, though it had in Scandinavia where they are more aware of the issues.  Safe Harbo(u)r was mentioned, but I pointed out that in 2015, the European Court of Justice declared invalid the Safe Harbor data-transfer agreement that had governed EU data flows across the Atlantic for some fifteen years.  I was directed to EBSCO’s White Paper about information security, but it didn’t mention anything about data protection.

In advance of last week’s EBSCO and OpenAthens webinar “Single Sign-On to a World of Knowledge“, I repeated my enquiry to OpenAthens and received the following:

All data that is given to OpenAthens is stored here in the UK. We provide the option of mapping attributes out to various publishers however this is controlled and decided by you. The default information that is sent to authenticate the user does not hold any data that identifies the user personally.

To me, “this is controlled and decided by you” sounds very much like ducking the question.

I appreciate that decisions on the release of personal data are ultimately the responsibility of the data controller, but I am concerned that neither EBSCO nor OpenAthens seem to acknowledge the legal and ethical difficulties that this presents to libraries having to make these decisions.  I believe that if they are advocating this enhanced use of SSO, they have a moral obligation to point out the data protection implications, even if they can’t advise libraries on these matters.

I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knows more about this – please leave me a comment.  Thanks for any wisdom you can offer!