All take and no give? Many scientists resist shift to open data

Most academics are keen to access other researchers’ material but a third are yet to share their own

April 5, 2017
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Significant numbers of scientists do not publish their research data, a survey has found, despite a vast majority believing that having access to other scholars’ raw material would benefit them.

While 73 per cent of respondents to a global survey of academics conducted by information and analytics company Elsevier and Leiden University agreed that having access to other researchers’ data would be beneficial, 34 per cent admitted that they did not publish their own figures. 

The survey, which attracted 1,162 responses from all scientific fields, found that one in 10 researchers (11 per cent) would never be willing to allow other researchers to access their data. Sixty-four per cent said that they would, while 25 per cent were undecided.

When academics did publish data, they tended to do so in an appendix to a research article or as a stand-alone article in a data journal, the survey says. Only 13 per cent of scholars published their data in a data repository, which is regarded as being more accessible.

Direct sharing of data person-to-person appears to be closely related to collaboration, the report, Open Data: the Researcher Perspective, adds, with only 14 per cent having passed their material to researchers they do not know.

Ingeborg Meijer, a senior researcher at Leiden’s Centre for Science and Technology Studies, said that it was “concerning” that researchers did “not feel the responsibility to put more effort in[to] data sharing”.

“The fact that a third do not publish their data at all is of concern to the open data movement,” she said. “Some of them think that publishing their results as aggregated tables and figures is sufficient, which is the traditional researcher perception. Some journals do require [the] uploading of data, but it is still easy to get around it if a researcher doesn’t want to [share].”

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Scientists who responded to the survey had a number of reasons for not sharing or publishing their data, including “privacy concerns, ethical issues, and intellectual property rights”. Some said that they “do not like the idea that others might abuse or misinterpret their data, let alone take credit for it”. The study’s authors suggest that policies such as data sharing mandates by funders or publishers have had “limited effect” in increasing the practice.

However, the survey also showed that many researchers feel insufficiently prepared for data sharing, while also stating a lack of incentive to do so. Only 37 per cent said that sharing data is rewarded in their field, while 41 per cent said that they had not received sufficient training. The findings underline previous calls for more guidance for academics confused about open data.

The report concludes that a “change in the scientific culture is needed”, where researchers are “stimulated and rewarded for sharing data” and where institutions implement and support research data policies, including mandates in some cases.

“Currently, researchers have many responsibilities and data sharing is not perceived as a responsibility that will help their careers,” it states. “With this shift in culture, the perception of open data practices will transform. Rather than being seen as an extra effort removed from the research itself, research data management may be recognised as an integral part of the daily work of researchers.”

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