The State of Open Data in 2021: Concerns Over Misuse and Lack of Credit for Open Sharing


This article is crossposted on the Digital Science blog.

“Researchers largely want to share their data, but the current system fails to support or adequately reward them for doing so and we are still a long way from a world where it is the norm to share fully-curated data”, argues Ginny Barbour of Open Access Australasia in her essay, How open data can help validate research and combat scientific misinformation, part of the 2021 State of Open Data report from Figshare, Digital Science, and Springer Nature.

Her article closes this year’s report, an annual endeavor we undertake with colleagues at Springer Nature, and provides something for publishers, universities, funders, government agencies, and other players to think about. She concludes: “researchers are left to navigate a system that makes it harder than not to share and where, most alarmingly, the public may only fully understand the importance of data sharing when it’s shown to have gone dramatically wrong. There’s no time to lose.”

Since 2016, we have monitored levels of data sharing and usage, and in this, our sixth survey, we asked about motivations as well as perceived discoverability and credibility of data that is shared openly.  As 65% of respondents have never received credit or acknowledgement for sharing data, Barbour is correct that the incentives are not there to encourage sharing, and in order to improve this, the system needs to change.

Over 4,200 researchers from around the world completed the survey, reporting increasing concern about misuse of data as well as a lack of credit and acknowledgement for those who do openly share their data.

Of particular interest to universities may be the findings that 76% of survey respondents believe they currently get too little credit for sharing data while 30% said they would rely upon their institutional library for help making their research data openly available.

For publishers: 47% of survey respondents said they would be motivated to share their data if there was a journal or publisher requirement to do so. 53% of survey respondents obtained research data collected by other research groups from within a published research article

Meanwhile, funders may take note of the 52% of survey respondents who said funders should make the sharing of research data part of their requirements for awarding grants. Additionally, 48% of survey respondents said that funding should be withheld (or a penalty incurred) if researchers do not share their data when the funder has mandated that they do so at the grant application stage.

Government agencies may be interested to learn that 73% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat support the idea of a national mandate for making research data openly available. 33% would like more guidance on how to comply with government policies on making research data openly available.

Other key findings are that:

  • 53% of survey respondents said it was extremely important that data are available from a publicly available repository
  • 55% of survey respondents felt they needed support in regard to copyright and licenses when making research data openly available
  • About a third of respondents indicated that they have reused their own or someone else’s openly accessible data more during the pandemic than before

Our respondents will likely be researchers who are interested in the topic so we thought we would see support for mandates but we were surprised that more than half of people responding to the survey felt they needed support around copyright and licenses when making data available.

Of great concern is the lack of credit and acknowledgement for sharing data. The traditional system rewards publishing of novel findings in journals, rather than the sharing of confirmatory or negative results or underlying data and other materials related to the research. This needs to change. The pandemic has shown that sharing of data openly increases progress and benefits society. This need not be limited to public health emergencies; there are many areas of research that bring direct benefits to society, not least that which addresses the current climate emergency. Opening up research is not the whole answer but it brings with it trust in science and this will be crucial as we move through the next decade and beyond.

Respondents’ motivations for data sharing are tied to traditional measurements of impact and credit, with 19% of respondents motivated by citation of their research papers, 14% by co-authorship on papers, 11% by increased impact and visibility of research, and 11% on public benefit. There are calls for credit systems to be put in place such as the Credit for Data Sharing initiative, though nothing is widely implemented at present.

We first started asking about the FAIR principles — ensuring data is findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable — in 2018 and this is the fifth anniversary of the FAIR principles. Awareness and compliance is higher than in previous years and 28% of respondents say that they are familiar with the principles, and more than half (54%) thought their data was very much or somewhat compliant with FAIR data principles. These findings indicate that concern over sharing data could lessen in the long run if data are as accessible and reusable as possible.

Elsewhere in the report are essays on data curation for enhancing data and metadata quality and tips for engaging researchers in open data sharing practices. Keisuke Iida of the Japan Science and Technology Agency shares his perspective on data sharing in Japan and Daniel Kipnis considers whether the COVID-19 pandemic has been a turning point for data sharing in the life sciences.

Nov 30, 2021 14:00

This is a reposted article from our blog, the original article can be found at:

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