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OA Week 2017: Maximizing the value of research

Posted in Open Access

By John Borghi and Daniella Lowenberg

Happy Friday! This week we’ve defined open data, discussed some notable anecdotes, outlined publisher and funder requirements, and described how open data helps ensure reproducibility. To cap off open access week, let’s talk about one of the principal benefits of open data- it helps to maximize the value of research.

Research is expensive. There are different ways to break it down but, in the United States alone, billions of dollars are spent funding research and development every year. Much of this funding is distributed by federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), meaning that taxpayer dollars are directly invested in the research process. The budgets of these agencies are under pressure from a variety of sources, meaning that there is increasing pressure on researchers to do more with less. Even if budgets weren’t stagnating, researchers would be obligated to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted.

The economic return on investment for federally funded basic research may not be evident for decades and overemphasizing certain outcomes can lead to the issues discussed in yesterday’s post. But making data open doesn’t just refer to giving access other researchers, it also means giving taxpayers access to the research they paid for. Open data also enables reuse and recombination, meaning that a single financial investment can actually fund any number of projects and discoveries.

Research is time consuming. In addition to funding dollars, the cost of research can be measured in the hours it takes to collect, organize, analyse, document, and share data. “The time it takes” is one of the primary reasons cited when researchers are asked why they do not make their data open. However, while certainly takes time to ensure open data is organized and documented in such a way as to enable its use by others, making data open can actually save researchers time over the long run. For example, one consequence of the file drawer problem discussed yesterday is that researchers may inadvertently redo work already completed, but not published, by others. Making data open helps prevents this kind of duplication, which saves time and grant funding. However, the beneficiaries of open data aren’t just for other researchers- the organization and documentation involved in making data open can help researchers from having to redo their own work as well.

Research is expensive and time consuming for more than just researchers. One of the key principles for research involving human participants is beneficence– maximizing possible benefits while minimizing possible risks. Providing access to data by responsibly making it open increases the chances that researchers will be able to use it to make discoveries that result in significant benefits. Said another way, open data ensures that the time and effort graciously contributed by human research participants helps advance knowledge in as many ways as possible.

Making data open is not always easy. Organization and documentation take time. De-identifying sensitive data so that it can be made open responsibly can be less than straightforward. Understanding why doesn’t automatically translate into knowing how. But we hope this week we’ve given you some insight into the advantages of open data, both for individual researchers and for everyone that engages, publishes, pays for, and participates in the research process.

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