Musings – Sharing is caring: Data Sharing by Scientists

This is a guest post by Ronald, who is a limnology PhD student in our university. He participated in Ülo´s PhD-seminar and wrote a report on one data sharing paper (link to paper). And as the topic was just touched in this blog a few weeks ago (link), and Ülo has published about it as well (link), we asked Ronald to share his text here.


Ronald (pic from here)

Text by Ronald Laarmaa

Sharing is caring: Data Sharing by Scientists

I think that every scientist agrees – collected data is the basic “building block” in science and the quality of decision-making is based on the quality and amount of collected data. Also, science has become very data intensive and good science practice more often depends on international collaboration. This new era that is called the fourth paradigm demands that science literature and collected data is accessible online to every scientist all over the world.

That is why there is raised a question about data sharing. There are many plus sides in sharing datasets, for example, reusing, re-analyzing and using data differently to test some other hypotheses. Also, the artificial fabrication and falsification of data is impeded. But when scientists agree to share their datasets then many issues will arise, starting with deposition and preservation, accessibility to data and reusing the data. Many countries (and scientists) think on this question differently – some of them think that this is ethical to make new datasets from other people data, some of them disagrees. There are different opinions on sharing policies and amounts of sharing in different countries and institutions. Also, data sharing can depend on funder institution policies. For example, in Estonia, the environmental monitoring data must be accessible to every person who wants to use collected data. But there are different rules in different institutions and organizations who decide which data, which amount and for whom they share.

To increase the effectiveness of data sharing, we have to approach this matter comprehensively. For example, European Commission is developing policies with its member countries to implement access to scientific data, distribution among scientists and preservation of data. However, many scientists said that the hardware and programs that now exist are not sustainable to the demands of what scientists need today. To share and deposit data internationally there must be international (cyber-)infrastructure built.

The study carried out, that scientists are satisfied with the process of collecting, analyzing and storage (short-term) their data, but they are not satisfied when they must storage their data long-term. This needs effective tools. Scientist quite often do not have enough funds to storage their collected data and they know that quite big responsibility is also their institution – when organization demands long-term data preservation, then they have very good collection of data. And I think that if they have tools for preserving data in long-term, they are more interested in data sharing. Still, many organizations do not contribute to data preservation and data sharing processes, because this needs funding, and money, usually is short.

Scientists believe that lack of access to others data holds their progress in science and has limited their opportunity to answer scientific questions, because in some fields collecting data is very time consuming. Also, scientists are afraid, that the data, which has collected by other scientists, could be with poor quality or misinterpreted. This might result from the circumstance that researchers do not have data preservation standards (in their organization and international level).

If it has happened that somebody has got the opportunity to use other scientist data, there are usually consequences. It is obvious that you have to cite the data you use if this is not yours, but usually, the researcher does not get away so easily. The owner of data wants to be a co-author of the paper researcher is writing. In my opinion, this is very acceptable, when data owner contributes to paper as well. This makes science more collaborative.

Differences in age cohorts are also interesting. The authors found that “younger people” are not so pleased with data sharing and making data available for others while people over 50 showed more interest to share their data. It is very hard to comment this issue because in my opinion this is vice versa in Estonia. Authors said that younger people wish that there are restrictions in databases and process to use another scientist data is regulated. It seemed to me that the actual tendency (which authors did not say straight) is that everybody wants access to other scientist data, but they do not want to share their own data.

In order to make data sharing possible and worldwide phenomena, we, at first, have to deal with fears of scientists – the quality of others data, access to database etc. Everybody agrees that this must be done and this is a very important issue nowadays, especially that science is becoming data-intensive and collaborative day by day. We have to invest to cyberinfrastructure and make criteria (international standards) how one must collect data and how to preserve it.

In my opinion, this was an interesting article and gave some insight what scientists actually think and how the preservation of data can be boring when you do not have correct tools. In Estonia we are used to preserving our collected data and in many fields we have long-term data (in limnology, for example) and we can predict the changes. Also, in my opinion, in Estonia the older scientist are holding their data and do not share this so willingly as a young scientist. I feel so, maybe it is not that way.


Source material: Tenopir C, Allard S, Douglass K, Aydinoglu AU, Wu L, Read E, et al. (2011) Data Sharing by Scientists: Practices and Perceptions. PLoS ONE 6(6): e21101. (link to full text)

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