Open Data in Science: ideas and actions

Science seems to be following a dangerous path. Its costs increase, while funding decreases. More tools, more people, more disciplines, and more data are necessary to address current scientific questions. At the same time, present needs are often sought with last century means. Do-it-yourself egoistic opaque competition is proving to be as ineffective as unsustainable. In particular, when data is generated individually and used for one or two studies, its great potential is immediately wasted from the very same moment it is kept in a folder. Even worse, given that science is mostly publicly funded, it is absurd and unethical to withhold data to the public and, specially, to every other scientist. In a word, sharing is more important and urgent than ever. Why don’t we share, then?

 

Our ingrained fears make us withhold what we own to avoid losing it. In some cases, one might simply not want to share. In others, perhaps we do not know how. Paradoxically, it is of the essence of virtual things not to lend themselves to division as they are used. Data, the central element in science, happens to fall in this special category. Luckily, data has never been so abundant as today. Sharing scientific data exponentially increases our chances to do better science and, in some cases, even the possibility to do science at all. Data is wealth, it flourishes as it flows. So, it is not all bad news! The real challenge now is to keep the bit-per-buck ratio high. We need to promote open data in science. But how?

 

In order to enhance an open culture, eloquence alone will not work. Fear can only be overcome with knowledge. And knowledge is only accessible by means of experience. Accordingly, we need to facilitate a space for interaction where benefits are clear and readily available to both parties. In our opinion, enhancing open data in science can be solved to the extent that flexible platforms are available and proper recognition is in place. Put it plain, the giver gets credit, merit and visibility. The taker has the opportunity to reuse existing resources, which would be hard to generate otherwise. Both spontaneously engage in a feedback process where data is curated, new hypothesis proposed, and interaction yields to unforeseen consequences. Nobody loses. Everybody wins.

 

We cannot expect others to make the first move. We need to lead by example and cultivate trust. In a nutshell, this is our proposal. First, we will build a platform named dplus1.org where anyone can share and access scientific data, centralizing already existing links to facilitate its search and use. Second, we will post our own data and sincerely encourage our peers to use it. Third, we will invite our peers to follow suit, namely, this time we will carry out a scientific study based upon their experimental data. Fourth, we envisage creating the Panton Index as a measure for data openness of scientists, labs and institutions. We will organize a series of events to raise awareness and participation within the scientific community. Last, we will turn the scientific method on the way we do science, analyzing the results of the above initiatives to draw conclusions of what worked and did not work.

 

An ambitious strategy will fail if it is not pragmatic at the same time. During this 12 months period, we will focus on the field of neuroscience. As an implementation case, we will promote open data for animal behavior, which is our field of research and where we reckon a burning need and great benefits. The ideas and action plans we propose are scalable and evolvable. We aim to spread by contagion. On the whole, this is an unprecedented opportunity: as scientists, we are offered the possibility to be leaders not only in our scientific mirco-domains of expertise, but to contribute with our attitude to culture and society as a whole. Then, every step we take into the unknown becomes a unique collective creative act.

Advertisements