Open Access To Research Data vs. Open Access To Research Articles

The New Symposium on Open Data organized by the Board on Research Data and Information (BRDI) was held on December, 1 in Washington DC. Stevan Harnad participated virtually. In his video that has now been made publicly available, he once again stresses the risks of providing open access to research data as opposed to providing open access to research articles.


oa_impactHarnad reminds us of the growth of OA journals which have now been made harvestable by OAI software, and of the impact that such journals have made possible for scientists whose citation rates have now increased. He also points out that most researchers would not make their papers OA until their institutions mandate it. Thus, the growth in the number of OA mandates embraced by institutions such as NIH, MIT or Harvard, compel around 90% of scientists who are working in those institutions to agree to making their research articles OA.

All this success, we are warned, may be endangered by asking scientists to provide open access to their research data. Harnad repeats: “Scientists and scholars are not data-gatherers, they are analyzers and interpreters of data.” The motivation of scientists to gather data for their research may be reduced if the data is to be released immediately upon being gathered. “This would not be welcomed by most researchers,” Harnad insists. “Researchers will need to be allowed exclusive first-exploitation rights on their data, even if the data gathering was publicly funded. The fundamental pragmatic motivational difference between open access to research articles and open access to research data needs to be understood,” he concludes.

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13 Responses to Open Access To Research Data vs. Open Access To Research Articles

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Open Access To Research Data vs. Open Access To Research Articles | InTechWeb Blog --

  2. Intechweb summary misses the point. Immediate open access to data is desirable and will grow. But, unlike immediate open access to journal articles, it cannot be mandated.
    Although the interval will vary with the field, researchers must be allowed an exclusive period in which they can process and analyze the data they have gathered, if they wish; otherwise they will not have the incentive to gather the data in the first place. (This refers to mandating immediate OA upon having gathered the data; it does not apply to requiring authors to provide access to the data on which a publication is based.)

    • How is immediate open access to data desirable if researchers must be allowed an exclusive period in which they can process the data? I understood that immediate OA to data means immediate OA upon having gathered the data.

  3. Many things are desirable that are (for various reasons) unattainable, for example, because of conflicts of interest: It is in the interests of research progress to have research data OA as soon as they are gathered; but it is in the interests of the researcher who gathers the data to be allowed a long enough exclusive time to data-mine it; otherwise there is no incentive to gather it. (Whether and how long an exclusive data-mining interval is needed will depend on the field.) For this reason, providing immediate OA to data cannot be mandated; in contrast, providing immediate OA to the author’s final, revised, accepted drafts of research journal articles can be mandated.

    And that is the point.

  4. Ah, I understand. In that case, the question is, is research progress all about researchers? My guess is that while data is not organized and well combined, and the research isn’t fully collaborative and the users are not coordinated – it is all about – researchers. Perhaps if the right co-ordination tools were developed, immediate OA to gathered data could be mandated. Then, the researchers wouldn’t feel like they are blowing their data in the wind.

    Thank you for your comments.

  5. Research is not all about researchers. But it is all by researchers. And researchers are not just data-gatherers: they gather their data in order to data-mine and analyze it. As I said, this will vary from field to field, but ask yourself whether you would want to invest months or years of your time in gathering data, only have to make it immediately accessible to all other researchers (who have not had to invest months or years of their time in gathering it).

    And that’s why immediate OA to refereed research articles can be mandated, but, in general, immediate OA to freshly gathered data cannot (and should not) be mandated (except in the special cases where the data speak for themselves).

    This has nothing to do with collaboration or co-ordination tools; it is about the (peculiar) incentives and reward structures of scientific and scholarly research — and, of course, about human nature.

  6. ask yourself whether you would want to invest months or years of your time in gathering data, only have to make it immediately accessible to all other researchers (who have not had to invest months or years of their time in gathering it).

    I wouldn’t. That’s why I thought that this is undesirable. It is desirable for research, but it is against human nature. It can not be mandated. That absorbed. 🙂

    However, if there were tools with which I could control the users of my data and if they work would be coordinated, and if we could collaborate – I would. This is the scenario that I envision for the “data scientists” of the future”. A supplement for the reward structure of the scientific research must be carefully premeditated yet, if we are to change how the research is done. And research will be re-imagined. And with it, researchers (human) nature, perhaps?

  7. Marc Kivel says:

    Perhaps, Katarina, the future of open access research is in creating collaboration pools where serious researchers come together around a particular interest and formally commit to each contributing according to their abilities to each according to their needs (shades of Marx)…smile…agreeing to contribute their resources to the ongoing success of all involved.

    I’d also recommend the benefits of interdisicplinary membership in those research pools – the idea that only a person in discipline A would be interested in, or have insights into, problem X is a bit shortsighted. And of course, crossing state and institutional boundaries is key to Open Access research. The downside would then be filtering folks into pools who have a legitimate contribution to make vs. simply tagging along for the ride…hmmmm, here’s a bit of a potential doctoral dissertation in Open Access Research!

    Imagine freely formed virtual researcher-owned co-ops. Each person makes available what they have (rather like building a Wiki) with the agreement that products and outcome are the intellectual product of ALL participants equally. I would suggest that a third-party data depository could keep and mirror the core data and provide records of access and use so issues of data corruption would be minimized. Informal group management using Skype, VTT email, videoconferencing, etc. would facilitate communication and research advancement.

    True, some folks will not want to participate in such an approach because they want to have it their way, or have all the fame, or the (hopefully) money, but there are always enough folks who love learning and those who are also learners that this may be worth exploring.


  8. Hi, Marc. Such research pools where everyone would contribute according to their abilities and then share rewards equally, is an image even more optimistic than mine. I do believe that a research re-imagined will affect the researchers’ nature, but reward is a must be given according to the abilities.

    If the new reward system was figured out and high-tech tools were developed for collaboration, perhaps then we could discuss a science utopia 🙂
    Thank you for your comment.

  9. Katarina, Marc – I read this rather fun story about sequencing the strawberry genome and thought of you. The paper is published (open access) at Hooray for the International Strawberry Sequencing Consortium!

  10. Marc Kivel says:

    Kevin Folta’s story about the Strawberry Genome was wonderful! Someone should be thinking about a motion picture – hmmmm, now who would we get to play Kevin?

    What the story suggests (to me) is that the idea of a collaborative effort to advance open access research is not so altruistic as to be unattainable: it is more a matter of bringing various interested stakeholders with varied agendas together around a specific research interest – in this case strawberry genome sequencing.

    Perhaps we can consider the ramifications from another field of inquiry – heirloom seed cultivation and preservation here in the United States. While heirloom seed saving and exchange started out as a small scale, local/regional phenomenon in the 60s and 70s, it is now a significant area of applied research with stakeholders including individual farmers and gardeners, seed companies, agricultural colleges, and givernment researchers all involved in the organic production and dissemination of vegetable and fruit seed varieties.

    Unlike commercial seed companies which have patents on their seeds, this approach has made seeds available at low, little, or no cost to folks across America, enhancing biodiversity and exploding the number of amateur and professional seed developers and savers. I believe that to the extent open access to research and data from research is made public, we migth expect similar organic growth in learning from research.


    • Nataly Anderson says:

      Dear Marc,

      The film is a great idea! Calling all directors…

      I stumbled across the following open source research groups the other day:

      It’s all happening…

      As for your idea of seed (and livestock) cultivation co-operatives, this an imperative – to preserve biodiversity, the environment and human, plant and animal health – not to mention promoting sustainable economic development. I’m glad you pointed out this initiative and hope this example will encourage the same thing to take place in other countries and, as you suggest, other fields of research.

      Was the word “givernment” a Freudian slip? I think you might have created a very apposite new word there – government that actually contributes to the people it represents. Big smile!

  11. Pingback: Michael Nielsen Talks About Second Open Science Revolution | InTechWeb Blog

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