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Provenance in Art and Science

March 31, 2023
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Photo shows researchers involved in the Provenance Project

In the world of art, provenance is the history of ownership of a painting or other work of art that helps to establish the work as authentic.  In a similar way, in the world of science, provenance is the history of an item of data that describes how it was created and transformed.  This information (if available) helps the scientist to have confidence that the data are correct and reliable.

Since 2009, the Provenance Project at Harvard Forest has engaged 25 Summer Research Program in Ecology students to develop software tools to track and use provenance for the R programming language.  A recent paper, Making Provenance Work for You, with five REU students as co-authors, describes the results of the project to date and the various ways in which provenance can help to make scientific analyses more transparent and understandable.


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