Making Open Data a Reality

The prevailing policy approach to promoting open data in the natural and social sciences – "if you mandate it, they will share" – is not working. To bring about change, researchers themselves must embrace data sharing, which means ensuring that they have the right information and incentives.

NEW YORK – The idea of open data has gone mainstream. Yet despite the far-reaching benefits of freely sharing data, there is still a long way to go before it becomes common practice.

In the last five years, major private and public research funders – including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NASA – have instituted data-sharing policies, and municipal, state, and country governments in the United States have been promoting open data portals. Academic publishers, too, have embraced open data, and individual scholarly journals have established policies that encourage, expect, or even require sharing data.

But the actual practice of sharing data has stagnated. In Figshare’s 2017 open data report, 60% of 2,300 surveyed researchers declared that they shared their data “either frequently or sometimes,” but only 20-30% shared “frequently.” Another recent study of 1,200 researchers found that “less than 15% of researchers share data in a data repository.” Data openness is certainly not the default in my field, the social sciences.

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