Create more impact: dare to share your research data
In January 2016 the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI), published the report ‘Durven delen’. (The English version ‘Dare to share’ followed in April.) So far, in Wageningen University & Research, the report got little attention. The AWTI gives an overview of the positive effects of sharing publications and research data on science, society and the research cost-benefit relation. Further, they formulate an advice to the Dutch parliament and government on how to increase the impact of scientific knowledge by making it accessible. The advised approach is to gradually adopt data sharing. The AWTI report comes both on open access strategies for publications and research data. Since the discussion on Open Access of publications is already lively, in this blog we give you a summary on the data part of the advice only. (Plus some comments relevant for Wageningen University & Research.)
Focus on Research Data
Scientific publications are an essential element of a scientific career. Therefore, the focus of research is on the publication process and its outcome. This counts for PhD research and for research projects. Already in de early stages of the research the publication strategy is on the agenda. Working titles, co-authoring and publication planning are discussed and agreed upon among partners in research collaborations. Research data does not receive this focus. The AWTI, in its report ‘Dare to Share’ pleads and advices to change this practice towards a culture where the sharing of research data becomes common practice.
Impact of research data sharing
There are many potential benefits for sharing research data. The AWTI mentions three categories of possible positive impact: science, society (and business) and the cost-benefit relation.
- Science. AWTI stresses the advantages that proper research data management and sharing research data can have on the scientific advancement of individual researchers. Transparency, verifiability, efficiency. Although not mentioned in the AWTI report, there is evidence that sharing research data with publications increases scientific impact (Pronk et al, 2016; Whitlock, M, 2010). Outreach might extend into other research areas (Chao, 2011). The reputation of a researcher may grow by good sharing practices, which may lead to new collaborations.
- Society and businesses will benefit from the (free) sharing of research data. The fast pharmaceutical response to the ZIKA virus, and the collaboration between science and this industry on malaria treatments, are only two examples of this benefit. For Wageningen University & Research it is easy to see how society and businesses can profit from the research data generated and created.
- Cost-benefit. The AWTI acknowledges that costs will increase because data management, preparing data for sustainable storage and re-use and the data infrastructure itself, require time and money. Financial benefits seem to be less clear for individual researchers. However, it is not hard to see that an organization, like ours, can profit from continuity in using, and the re-use of, data. Currently, the National Coordination Point RDM is performing a cost-benefit analysis to detect opportunities for research groups and individual researchers. We will of course report on the results of this study by the end of this year.
Sharing research data can have a positive impact on: science, society and research cost-benefit ratio
Objections to sharing data
Some researcher have objections to sharing research data. Some of these objections are quite legitimate.
For example, the cost aspect, mentioned before. Who will pay for these costs? Do the costs for good RDM and data sharing reduce the finances available for the research? This is certainly an issue that needs to be solved: how much does good RDM really cost? And how much does good RDM benefit? After all, keeping your data organized and safe during and after the project, might benefit future analysis on the data (re-use).
Another objection is the risk that another researcher will publish the research before you can do it yourself. Currently, data citation and data crediting is not yet common practice. However, publishing you data in a trusted archive, will actually reduce the risk that others will do something with your data. Because, by publishing the data, you claim the data to be yours. It is good science to respect that. And also, it is never a requirement that you publish your data for sharing, before you have published your outcomes yourself.
The AWTI stresses that before sharing data a number of requirements need to be met. For this, the FAIR data principles are generally accepted. We refer to an earlier blogpost and the Force11 website for more information on the FAIR data principles.
It is never a requirement that you publish your data for sharing before you have published your outcomes yourself
Data sharing at Wageningen University & Research
In Wageningen University & Research data sharing is not yet common practice. Since 2013, all new PhD students and all University Chair Groups make Research Data Management Plans (RDMP). But, an RDMP is only one step towards sharing data. In our output registration system we currently find 262 published datasets. They are Findable, Accessible and Re-Usable. Not all are open access, but this is not a requirement from the FAIR principles.
Recently the Dean, dr. Richard Visser, installed a working group RDM, with representatives from the Graduate schools and the Research Institutes. The purpose of this group is to give an advice on how RDM can be better adopted, keeping the FAIR principles in mind. Data sharing will be gradually introduced and promoted. Once data sets become Findable, Accessible and thus Re-usable, Wageningen University & Research data sets will practice the advice by the AWTI.