The 24 August 2010 issue of EOS (www.agu.org/pubs/eos — You need password access.) contains an interesting article, ”Data Citations and Peer Review” by Mark. A. Parsons, Ruth Duerr, and J.-B. Minster. They note, “Ultimately, more is needed to develop completely unambiguous ways to cite data precisely … journal editors and reviewers would need to be more rigorous in demanding that authors accurately cite the data they use in their research.” Amen to that — see my posting of 11 September 2009.
JAWRA editorial policy differs from their recommendations in one respect. Last year, in revising our Instructions for Authors, we basically threw up our hands on how to cite data sets. Who is the “author” of data compiled in three centuries? What is the meaning of year cited (e.g., USGS 1997) in a the traditional citation format, when minutes may count? We felt treating data sets as informal references, not Literature Cited, would give authors a lot more freedom to focus on the main point of clearly identifying data that were actually used.
Downloads, rather than formal citations, are perhaps a better metric for big data providers like USGS’ NWIS, and EPA’s STORET, which are accessed by thousands of private citizens. Also, GIS data today are managed in data bases like the National Hydrography Dataset. The notion of citing a small, self contained GIS “coverage” prepared by a single author almost seems quaint and old fashioned. (I’m dating myself even admitting I know about coverages!)
Nevertheless, I’m willing to admit our approach may short-change some data compilers looking for the credit of formal citations. And, I completely agree careful compilation and editing of data sets is something which needs to be professionally recognized.
The answer may be allowing formal citations of data sets where appropriate. Exactly what is appropriate is where I need help. Your comments on this matter are invited.