Open House on Open Science

Added by Branwen Hide on 11 February 2009 16:03

For the past few days there has been a flurry of activity on the Open Knowledge Foundation Network (OKFN) open science mailing list, as a result of a blog post by Michael Nielson on The Role of Open Licensing in Open Science.

For those that are not familiar with the open science movement, like open access, it encourages researchers to make research information, such as research data, software or journal article freely available. It is powered by the belief that publicly funded research should be made publicly available and that by having access to as much information as possible you will be able to produce the best research possible. It is also based on the idea that data itself is actually of value. In June 2006 RCUK published a position statement which states that ?ideas and knowledge from publicly-funded research must be made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely and effectively as possible?, and since then all the Research Councils have either signed up or developed their own position statement.

However, problems occur as the data has the potential to be commercially valuable or can be aggregated into works of value. Our recent report To Share or not to Share, highlights the lack of clarity in who actually has ownership of the data, as the data can be controlled by the researcher, research organisation (universities or research institutions) research funder or publisher. Control may be mediated by the use of access restrictions, licenses, copyright, patents and charges for access or re-use. Advocates of Open science/Open access argue that these restrictions are against the communal good and that research outputs should be made available without restriction or fee. They have developed a set of open content licenses, based on copyright law that encourage and in some cases force the sharing of information.

Our report also highlights the need for guidance with regards to ethical and legal issues of making sensitive data publicly available, and in terms of what stage data is made available (i.e. raw or manipulated data). These concerns are slso raised on the list discussion, as well as the concern that making your data freely available will make researchers less competitive and will hinder their own opportunities to publish future works. However these perceptions can be overcome, especially if all researchers actively make their data available or with the support of those who fund research. For example research funders could actively reward those individuals that do share their work.

Our report highlights a number of issues, which are inline with those being dicussed on the open-science list, and also makes a number of recommendations which need to be address in order to encourage wide spread data sharing, and well worth reading as part of the debate. We are open to questions, and comments and ideas for follow up studies.

The OKFN discussion is interesting, but I am not sure why it is being held over a closed discussion list. Even though anyone can sign up to the list, it doesn?t seem as open as a blog or wiki. Also I am having trouble following all the threads and the topic is complicated enough; simply because the area of open research/open data is such a mind field. This is partially due to the issues discussed above, but also because open science/open access means different things to different people. However, despite the complexity, this discussion is needed, especially if there is going to be wide spread uptake and engagement of all open science practises, from data sharing to open lab notebooks.

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