Barriers to sharing data

There is a stereo-typical image of a covetous academic, dedicated to their work and who hoards the data for their research, so that no-one else will achieve the acclaim for their life’s work. Presumable this stereo-type arose from such stories as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz having a major dispute over which of them first discovered Calculus. In hindsight, both of them discovered it independently and both deserved acclaim. Charles Darwin kept his data on the “Origin of the Species” for very many years, before being persuaded to publish what turned out to be a popular science book of its day.

But we are not in the 17th or 19th Centuries, we are in the age of Information, Internet and global networks where collaboration has become respected. Teams of scientists are now rewarded, for example the Manchester University Physicists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov who won the Nobel Prize for Physics with their invention of Graphene. The Royal Society report “Science as an Open Enterprise” (http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/sape/2012-06-20-SAOE.pdf) describes how an outbreak of e-coli which originated in Hamburg was contained by the work of scientists in four continents who posted their analysis of the virus onto open source sites.  The genetic sequencing of the virus was completed by scientists in Hamburg and China, which was then posted onto an open source site with an open data license. In July of last year the European Commission published a press release outlining the measures that they will take to improve open access to scientific information that is produced in Europe, because the Commission feels that open access to data will improve Research and Development,and increase knowledge and  competitiveness in Europe (“Scientific data: open access to research results will boost Europe’s innovation capacity” http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-790_en.htm).

Such openness and swift communication is expected by today’s researcher. However, an EU study found that only 25% of researchers openly share their data.  The researchers that participated in our study expressed the desire to share their data, some were already sharing, but others found that although they wanted to share it was not easy to achieve. Many felt that there were barriers put in their way, one of which involved the old stereotype, they were not expected to share. For example, funding bodies may well be encouraging researchers to give open access to data that was paid for from public funds, but researchers believe that they will not get funding from using the data that someone else has collected although it would be an efficient and economical way of  carrying out research. Researchers also reported that universities attract funding for new projects, not for re-use of data, and there is more interest in publishing new research rather than replication studies.

Practical reasons were also mentioned, for instance personal barriers to sharing data were listed as:

  • Not knowing  where to deposit data
  • Lack of time and resources to undertake the deposit of data
  • Confidentiality and sensitivity of data, restrictions from funding body or breaking trust with research participants

Barriers in the wider scientific environment were reported as the difficulty in accessing data repositories because of lack of standardisation, and a poorly supported data sharing environment. It would seem that there are two main barriers to be crossed before the open sharing of data is completely commonplace. First the stereotype of the data hugging scientist must disappear from the minds of  researchers, funders, Higher Educational Institutions and publishing houses. Secondly, the infra-structure of  data deposit sites, how, when and where to deposit data, has to be fully resolved, publicised and implemented. Once again, it would appear that a JoRD Policy Bank Service would be of great value to researchers because it would supply a central resource of how, when and where to share data,  contribute to improving the data-depositing infra-structure and remove one barrier to the open access of data.

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