“Your data is more important than your paper!”

A delayed report of the Openaire Workshop at UGent on 18 November. The https://www.openaire.eu/ is an initiative supported from the EC to support, foster, develop and explore open access in science. They have national reps in all EU member states as well as a number of non-EU member states that are responsible for disseminating info to researchers, and helping them navigate open access (OA) in general. The large majority of the workshop was recorded and can be found Openaire Workshop.

The workshop, among other things, presented the OA pilot project connected to Horizon 2020 funding. It is targeted at a number of exact science fields but all Horizon grant holders can opt in. It mandates and financially supports 3 open access publications (max 2000 euros/publication) with obligations of also preparing data management plan and putting data (or part of) in a data repository if legally able (no this does not mean that you have to share your data, nor that you give to anyone and everyone, but just that there is a record and metadata around it and not lying in your sock drawer. For example, as far as I understand, patient data would be exempt from this, but survey data not unless there was an explicit privacy/legal issue would/could be stored here).

Lots of talk then about a data management plan (thinking about your data and writing it up pre-during and post-research), and the benefits and issues around OA. And interesting to see how different unis and science systems are responding to these calls now from the bottom and top (funders).

The keynote from Lennart Martens from UGent biology, was filled with great anecdotes of data management and OA success stories. He emphasized that “Your data is more important than your paper!”, and closed with (paraphrasing) “Dragons always get lots of gold and then sleep on it, why bother getting the gold (the data) and go do something original with the gold. The metaphor is imperfect, as this pile of gold is finite, but data is not. When I use the data I do not use it up. Data is an infinite treasure.”


My punch line from the day, particularly for skeptic social science researchers: These records of data, and not the papers or articles, are a fundamental life blood of a field. For example, natural history libraries, where you have collections of natural specimens (bugs, animals, plants) are the result of data management & OA and thus future findings can be attributed to this open science policy and having good records of the data to compare specimens.  Without such initiatives these specimens would remain in the back closets of researchers, gathering dust.

What if we as social science researchers think about our research data in that way? I am not suggesting that we give for example field work data notes to just anyone, and I am not comparing the natural sciences to social sciences; obviously we have very different issues of privacy, confidential, security, etc… that don’t exist or to such a great extend in other fields. But what if failing to leave even a record of this data, through meta data (e.g. notes about our key concepts, population examined, collection strategies/technique etc..), outside of the box of notes we may carry with us or the raw data on USB sticks or external drives, outside of what gets published; is a disservice to the pursuit of science that we as researchers are responsible for?

A “living data management plan”, as Marjan Grootveld so rightly put, should certainly be part of the standard business talk in developing a project, which largely currently is seen as a sensitive topic; as it is after all core to our business.



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