Japanese researchers ‘nervous about sharing data’

Surveys reveal complex mix of concerns about misuse of research results

May 27, 2019
USB key

Japanese academics are less likely than many foreign counterparts to share their original research data publicly, often because they fear it will be misused. Instead, they distribute it within their private networks in ways that can make it vulnerable to misuse.

Research by publisher Springer Nature has unearthed incongruous attitudes to data sharing in the East Asian archipelago. Springer’s survey of almost 1,400 Japanese researchers found that about 60 per cent posted their original results in websites or repositories or as supplements to journal articles – fewer than in many other countries, according to a global survey Springer conducted in 2017.

The Japanese survey results have been summarised in a white paper released ahead of the Japan Open Science Summit, which began in Tokyo on 27 May. They show that a further 35 per cent of Japanese researchers circulated their data privately among colleagues in their disciplines or institutions.

They mostly do so by email, USB sticks, flash drives or sharing services like Dropbox. Such approaches are “not particularly secure or persistent for long-term storage”, noted Springer’s head of data publishing, Iain Hrynaszkiewicz.

The survey also found that the main reason Japanese researchers avoided releasing their data publicly was concern that it could be misused. This contrasts with the findings of the 2017 survey, when less than 1 per cent of the 7,700 respondents said that they were worried about their data being misused.

Instead, they cited copyright and licensing concerns and worries about how to present their data – suggesting that logistical issues, not worries about data misuse, were the main impediments to sharing.

However, in a 2016 survey of more than 500 Wellcome Trust-funded researchers, fear of data being misused or misinterpreted was the most cited barrier to sharing. A 2012 study of more than 300 clinical trial specialists attracted a similar response.

Mr Hrynaszkiewicz said Springer’s global and Japan surveys had been framed differently, and warned against using them to make “cultural comparisons”. He said the term “data misuse” could be interpreted in different ways.

Some researchers might worry about their findings being deliberately falsified or exploited for commercial or “more nefarious” purposes. Some might fear being “scooped”, misrepresented or misinterpreted, and others might worry about inadvertent errors in their work being discovered – although the latter possibility should be considered “a benefit of open science and part of research’s self-correcting nature”.

The Japanese survey found that researchers who disclosed their data publicly were motivated mainly by the desire to advance science – by being transparent and facilitating reuse of their data – rather than compliance with publication rules. Many were not even familiar with these obligations, with 23 per cent of respondents unaware of their main funders’ requirements in relation to data sharing.

The report says that while the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) requires data sharing, this was known by only 11 per cent of the respondents who identified JST as their main research funder. “A further 66 per cent incorrectly identified JST’s requirements and 23 per cent did not know enough information to provide an answer.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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