The Approaching Horizon of Research Data in Europe and Beyond
Last month the 14th Academic Publishing Conference in Europe was held in Berlin, Germany. Grace Baynes, Vice President of Data and New Product Development at Springer Nature, was there to provide insights on research data and make a compelling case on why openly sharing those data is valuable. Her talk focused on researchers’ attitudes and the challenges globally that will affect access to research data in the future.
New mandates and policies in Europe that support greater access to research data, are evidence that the value of research data, both financially and in the way open data accelerates the speed of discovery, are finally being recognised. The European Commission’s Horizon Europe proposal sets out a clear vision for open data that will enable reuse and reduce duplication. On a global scale, more than 50 funders now require data sharing, the majority of which are based in the US and Europe, particularly in the UK.
However, more needs to be done. The reproducibility crisis creates a compelling case for more openness. A study of eighteen Nature Genetics articles found that only two papers could be reproduced fully, six were reproduced partially and ten could not be reproduced. The lack of data availability goes a long way to explaining this reproducibility crisis. It also increases the costs significantly in the research community, with irreproducible biology research costs at $28 billion per year.
“The reproducibility crisis creates a compelling case for more openness.”
Grace Baynes, VP of Data and New Product Development
Open access to data is key in addressing the reproducibility crisis. Not only that, but the benefits it brings to researchers, science and society as a whole are significant. Benefits to researchers include greater recognition, more citations, improved credibility and increased usage of their research, just to mention a few. Moreover, both the individual researcher and the science community benefits from data sharing, by bringing forth new opportunities for collaboration, increased availability of resources and improvement of future research. When it comes to society the benefits can be felt in the economy, the acceleration in innovation and the way it will inform future policies.
Grace also outlined research undertaken by Springer Nature (one of the largest surveys about research data) on the practical challenges that researchers face when it comes to data sharing. The findings clearly demonstrate that the majority of researchers agree on the importance of data sharing, with 63% sharing their data files in some way. However, according to the State of Open Data report from Digital Science (which Springer Nature partnered on), in 2018 only about half of research data were shared. What could be the reasons behind researchers’ outlook and the actual data sharing figures? The most prominent challenge was organising data in a presentable and useful way (46%), with confusion around copyright ranking second (37%), followed by the lack of knowledge of the right outlet to share (33%). Moreover, challenges can be linked to the researcher’s career stage; lack of time is more of an issue for senior researchers while lack of knowledge is experienced more by first stage researchers. Challenges can also be geographically specific, with researchers in North America, Australasia and Europe being concerned more with lack of time, while those in South America and Asia are more concerned with the costs of sharing data. Furthermore, data sharing behaviours can differ based on the subject area. 75% of researchers shared their data in the biological sciences, whereas only 59% in the physical sciences did. The perceived importance of data discoverability can explain this as those in biological sciences rated it as 7.8* whereas those in the physical sciences only as 6.6. From the State of Open Data report we can see more factors that might increase data sharing. Out of those researchers that choose to share their data, a number of motivating factors were identified; with increased visibility of their research ranking first, followed by the benefit that sharing can have on the society, enabling transparency and re-use, as well as getting proper credit for sharing their data. Moreover, when researchers were asked if citations are a key contributing factor to sharing their data, the majority responded positively.
Overall researchers have a positive attitude when it comes to data sharing however there is still work to be done. Governments, funders, research institutions, libraries, and publishers all have a role to play to unlock the huge potential of research data. Clear policy, along with proper credit, explicit funding, education provision and support to researchers on how to manage and share data is essential. Springer Nature provides a number of Research Data Services to enable researchers share their data in the most effective way possible.
*out of 10.