Open Access Week: more researchers are sharing their data

Scholars are increasingly willing to use other people’s data in their research, writes Mark Hahnel 

October 26, 2017
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The percentage of researchers who routinely share their data is on the up, according to a new report analysing researchers’ attitudes towards open data. In fact, the number of researchers who have never made a dataset openly available has reduced by 3 per cent (to 21 per cent) in the last year. 

Open data is a broad description for the idea that data created as part of the research process should be openly available, which means that it is free to access, reuse, repurpose and redistribute, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other vehicles of control.

The 2017 State of Open Data Report, published by open data repository Figshare, came out this week (which is also Open Access Week). It tracks the evolution of how researchers deal with data and reveals what we believe are positive movements suggesting growing momentum towards open data.

Interestingly, of those who have never made data openly available, some 70 per cent are now willing to reuse data that has been shared by others while conducting their own research. This is a very encouraging indicator, as such cognitive dissonance can be changed through education and incentives. Indeed, according to the report, 80 per cent of researchers say that they are increasingly willing to reuse open datasets in their own work – a 10 per cent increase year-on-year. More researchers are curating their data to make it suitable for sharing openly too, with the proportion increasing by 7 per cent to 74 per cent. 

Digging further into researcher behaviour and attitudes, we can see some shifting patterns. Researchers are increasingly motivated to share their data by a desire to validate their own results, as well as to foster collaboration. For a second year, the proportion of researchers valuing a data citation the same as a citation to an article is more than 75% – indicating that academics are happy to get credit from non-traditional research outputs.

More work is needed to embed open data within the lifecycle of research. Researchers remain unclear on how to reference or cite data sets, and licensing remains a fuzzy muddle. Nearly a third of respondents who already share data do not know where the funds to do so will come from in future.

As a result, funders, institutions and infrastructure providers have work to do. But perhaps the most critical issue is education – empowering academics, and providing them with expert assistance to make their data open. 

As Jean-Claude Burgelman of the European Commission states in his foreword to our report: “Open data is more like a renewable energy source: it can be reused without diminishing its original value, and reuse creates new value.”

Mark Hahnel is founder and CEO of Figshare.

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