The paradox of researchers and open data

I’ve written a few times over the past couple of years about the open science movement, and the strong rationale behind freely sharing not just ones academic papers, but also the data upon which those papers were constructed.

Alas, a recent report from Elsevier highlights the apparent paradox at play in the academic world.  For whilst the majority of researchers openly admit that their work would benefit from more open data, few of them actually share their own data.

The study consisted of a survey of over 1,200 researchers from around the world in fields including genetics and humanities.  It came to a number of clear conclusions:

  • Researchers support open data – at least when it comes to the benefits their own research derives from it.  They’re much less familiar with sharing their own data, with inexperience and the academic culture significant reasons given for this.
  • Funders are not driving change – researchers didn’t feel that the wishes of funders to share data more widely were driving change, with most researchers believing they own the data used in their work.
  • Many are still not sharing at all – 34% of researchers don’t publish data at all, and when they do, it’s usually in the form of tables and annexes rather than raw data.
  • Patchy standards – researchers are evenly divided between those who think that good standards exist for citing published data and those who do not.
  • Subject specific sharing – there were also pronounced differences in the sharing practices across subject areas, with some subjects firmly embedding data sharing into the design and execution of research.

“The findings presented in this report help us—as well as research leaders, university and government policy makers—better understand where pain points lie when it comes to the sentiment around and the reality of data sharing practices among researchers. These are invaluable insights for us to ensure researchers are given the tools and knowledge they need to successfully share their data,” Elsevier say.

The report and all underling report raw data are freely available.

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