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Open and FAIR go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

February 3, 2020

The State of Open Data Report has been produced 2016-2019 by Digital Science and Figshare. What’s different about 2019? The number of respondents, which remained relatively the same for the first three years, quadrupled to over 8000 world-wide according to Briony Fane, “What is the State of Open Data in 2019?” in The State of Open Data Report 2019 (Digital Science, October 24, 2019), 8-12.

Fane goes on to say, the value of a citation to a dataset was rated highly or more highly than was a citation to a standard research paper. What makes this attitude interesting is that while a third of respondents published their first peer-reviewed article in the 2010s nearly half already have tenure and over a third are professors. So, the idea that researchers who have already passed over the coveted professional thresholds care only about traditional forms of scholarship is not a truism. But this may be the case because researchers who are established in their careers are less concerned about getting scooped by sharing their data and are more interested in collaborating with other scholars.

Fane figure

Fane, “What is the State of Open Data in 2019?” 9.

It may seem logical that over a third of respondents have concerns about misuse of data. However, the second most frequent concern was uncertainty about copyright and licensing. It is encouraging though that the percentage of respondents who don’t know what license covered their data when it was made openly available has dropped significantly since the first report four years ago.

The sad reality these reports reveal is that most researchers still don’t know what FAIR principles are when it comes to open data. But on the positive, a majority “of respondents who had never used open data in their research would be willing to do so” (Fane 11).

Some other “Big Takeaways” identified by Briony Fane, a Data Analyst with Digital Science:

  • “full citation (61%), co-authorship (42%), consideration in job reviews (45%) and financial reward (38%) all ranked highly as important mechanisms for researchers as credit for sharing their data openly”
  • “65% of respondents reported that they curated their data for sharing either privately or publicly”
  • “79% of 2019 respondents were supportive overall of a national mandate for making primary research openly available.”

There have been tremors in the research publishing community since an open letter with now over 60 signatories was sent late last year to petition for a White House Executive Order to require open access for publicly funded research. Based on The State of Open Data Report 2019, an important step a librarian can take is to educate researchers about the FAIR principles and ensure research data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.

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