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News Release 13-020

Ten International Research Funders Announce Round Three of 'Digging into Data' Challenge

NSF collaborates with nine other organizations on supporting computationally intensive social science

Digging into data logo

Grant competition is designed to address how Big Data changes the research landscape.

February 6, 2013

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Ten international research funders announced today their joint participation in round three of the "Digging into Data Challenge (DiD)," a grant competition designed to spur computationally intensive research in the social sciences and humanities.

This third round of the challenge aims to address how "Big Data" changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences by asking what "Big Data" means for researchers in these disciplines.

Science now faces new research opportunities made possible by the unprecedented terabytes and petabytes of digitized data now created by virtue of everyday technology or collected through conversion of analog data from the past.

Data mining has arrived for the humanities and social sciences, yielding myriad opportunities to ask research questions about human history, society and social phenomena that could never have been realistically entertained before--and research funders want scholars and applicants to ask those questions with an emphasis on new, computationally-based research methods that would be used to address them.

For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a project last year that will make use of novel data-mining technology to exploit one of the largest population databases in the world. This vast collection of harmonized 19th- and early 20th-century census microdata from Britain, Canada and the United States was originally digitized for genealogical research. The research goal is to shed light on the impact of economic opportunity and spatial mobility on the social structure in Europe and North America.

As with last year, NSF will participate as a research funder in the DiD. NSF will be joined by two new research funders, along with the seven others that participated last year. The new research funders will be the Canada Fund for Innovation and the Natural Sciences and the Engineering Research Council, also in Canada.

Other funders are the Arts & Humanities Research Council (U.K.), the Economic & Social Research Council (U.K.), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (U.S.), the National Endowment for the Humanities (U.S.), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in collaboration with the Netherlands eScience Center, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (U.K.), which will assume an administrative support role for the project.

"The Digging into Data Challenge has been attractive to researchers working within specific social, behavioral and economic science disciplines, but also to those working across these traditional disciplines," said Elizabeth Tran, a program officer in NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences and NSF lead for Digging into Data.

"DiD has proven to be a very flexible funding mechanism for NSF, and we are very pleased to continue working alongside our U.S. and international colleagues in supporting this unique program."

The first two years of the DiD sparked enormous interest from the international research community. In 2012, a major report was issued by the Council on Library and Information Resources, noting that "the Digging into Data Challenge investigators have demarcated a new era--one with the promise of revelatory explorations of our cultural heritage that will lead us to new insights and knowledge, and to a more nuanced and expansive understanding of the human condition."

Final applications will be due on May 15, 2013. Further information about the competition and the application process can be found on the Digging into Data website.


Media Contacts
Deborah Wing, NSF, (703) 292-5344, email:

Program Contacts
Elizabeth Tran, NSF, (703) 292-5338, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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