To share or not to share: Publishing research data

Added by Sarah on 09 June 2008 19:08

The constraints are as significant as the opportunities when it comes to publishing, locating and accessing research data, according to a new report from the RIN.

News release - 9 June 2008  

Potentially useful research data are at risk of inaccessibility in the long-term, and there is no consistent approach to assessing and assuring the scholarly content or usability of the datasets being published today. Realising the full potential of data requires further progress in data management policies and practice.

Based on more than 100 detailed interviews with researchers across eight subject areas, To Share or Not to Share: Publication and Quality Assurance of Research Data Outputs reports the findings of a study commissioned by RIN in association with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and carried out by Key Perspectives Ltd.

There is now widespread recognition that research data are a valuable long-term resource, but until now we have lacked a clear picture of how researchers are responding to the new opportunities and challenges. Are they making their data available and accessible to others, and what are the issues they are encountering when and if they do so?

The RIN report finds that:

  • Across the full range of subjects and disciplines, researchers create and collect many different kinds and categories of data during the course of their research, and datasets are generated for different purposes and through different processes. Policy-makers need to take full account of the different kinds of research data researchers produce, the different values they have, and the different needs of researchers and other potential users.
  • Long-term viability is a critical issue. Many datasets of potential value to other researchers are stored by researchers themselves in a haphazard manner, and those stored on websites are vulnerable in the long term. There is a need for co-operation between researchers, funders and institutions to ensure that sustainable arrangements are in place to preserve valuable data and to make them accessible. 
  • A number of factors constrain researchers from publishing their data, including the lack of explicit career rewards, a wish to retain exclusive use of the data until their publication value has been exhausted, or a lack of time, resources, expertise, or an appropriate archive service. Research funders and institutions should actively promote data publishing and re-use, with measures including career-related rewards to researchers who publish high-quality data, case studies on the benefits of doing so, support for researchers in developing sound data management plans, and strategies to address current skills gaps.
  • Some publishers are already creating persistent links from articles to relevant datasets. But relatively few researchers have the expertise, resources and inclination to make their own data available and usable by others. Other obstacles to locating and gaining access to datasets include inadequate metadata, refusal to release the data, or the need for licences and/or for the payment of fees. There is scope for publishers to promote ease of access and use of relevant data sets, and a need to clarify the current confusion over policies on access for text-mining tools. The take-up of Web 2.0 applications should be monitored and its implications considered.
  • Most researchers generally take the integrity of other researchers? outputs on trust. But there is no consistent approach to assessing the quality of the scholarly content or the technical usability of datasets. Whilst data centres apply rigorous procedures to ensure the quality of the structure and format of the data they hold, many researchers lack the skills to meet those quality standards without substantial help from specialists. There is a need for further work on acceptable approaches to the formal assessment of datasets across the disciplinary spectrum.

The report is available at…


Michael Jubb ? Director, Research Information Network

email: ? telephone: 020 7412 7285

Notes to editors:

The Research Information Network ( was set up in 2005 and is funded by a consortium made up of the four UK Funding Councils, the seven Research Councils and the three National Libraries.  Its fundamental role is to undertake evidence-based research into information and data issues that relate to professional researchers ? and particularly academic researchers ? and to develop policy, guidance and advocacy on that basis.

The domain across which the RIN operates covers all disciplines and subjects, from the physical and life sciences to the social sciences, the arts and humanities. The RIN?s remit covers a similarly wide range of information sources, providers and types.  It includes published books and serials; manuscripts; museum collections; grey literature; sounds and images; and datasets produced and held in a wide range of formats.

The Joint Information Systems Committee ( promotes the innovative application and use of information systems and information technology in further and higher education. It provides access to electronic resources, new environments for learning, teaching and research, guidance on institutional change, advisory and consultancy services and the world-class network JANET.

The Natural Environment Research Council ( is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences.  It delivers independent research, survey, training and knowledge transfer to advance knowledge of planet Earth as a complex, interacting system.

© Research Information Network 2005–2009