UK and US researchers ‘less likely to share research data’

Large worldwide survey suggests scholars in continental Europe more readily provide data alongside results

March 26, 2018
Rubens painting covered in plastic
Source: Alamy

Researchers in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia are less likely to share research data following a project than their counterparts in most continental European countries, a new study has suggested.

The survey of almost 7,700 researchers worldwide found that nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) routinely share their data following a project, either as supplementary information to a journal paper or through a data repository.

However, the results from the Springer Nature survey show significant variations in the likelihood of researchers sharing data, according to country and discipline.

Among the 17 countries where more than 100 people responded to the survey, researchers in Canada were the least likely to make data available, with just 50 per cent saying they shared it through supplementary files, and/or a repository. This was followed by the US and Australia (both 55 per cent), Portugal (56 per cent) and the UK (58 per cent).

But academics in other European countries were more likely to say that they generally shared data, with Poland having the greatest share (76 per cent) followed by Germany (75 per cent) and Switzerland (69 per cent).

There were also variations across different disciplines.

Biological sciences had the highest share of respondents who said they generally shared data (75 per cent), followed by earth sciences (68 per cent), medical sciences (61 per cent) and physical sciences (59 per cent). 

Despite the variations across countries and by subject, a large proportion of researchers worldwide believed it should be possible to find the data generated by research. When asked to rate from one to 10 how important it was that data were discoverable, three-quarters (76 per cent) gave a score of six or more while a quarter gave a rating of 10.

The main barrier identified by researchers for sharing data was being able to organise it “in a presentable and useful way”, which was highlighted by almost half of respondents to the survey (46 per cent). Other challenges were researchers being unsure about copyright issues (37 per cent), a lack of knowledge about which repository to use to share the data (33 per cent) and a lack of time (26 per cent).

Overall, the report says that there should be more support and education on data management for researchers, particularly for early career academics, while simpler and quicker ways for scholars to share data were also needed.

Grace Baynes, vice-president for data and new product development in Springer Nature’s Open Research Group, said that although the survey confirmed that researchers were “convinced” of the importance of sharing data, there was still work to do to make it normal practice.

“To their credit, US and UK funders have moved early to encourage and require data sharing through policies, pilots and infrastructure, and yet researchers in the UK and US report lower percentages of data sharing than the global average,” she said. “While funder mandates continue to be an essential factor, our findings suggest that policy must be coupled with greater support and education for researchers, and faster, easier routes to sharing data optimally.

“This challenge requires the whole research community’s concerted attention and needs collaborative solutions from funders, institutions, libraries, publishers and researchers themselves.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Could this be related to an "entrepreneurial" culture as, understandably, industrial laboratories seldom share data?