Open Access Forum

Tonight’s class was a little different than usual. Instead of sitting around tables in our open lecture space, we entered the room and it was set up for a special forum & discussion. It’s Open Data Week (April 10-14) here at Virginia Tech and this was just one of many events offered by the University Libraries to create opportunities for conversations about research and data.

We live in an innovating and ever-changing world. Some might argue that this is the age of technology. But I say it’s just the beginning. If Higher Education wants to stay relevant at the forefront of new ideas, it must embrace these new frontiers and explore new ways of conducting research and sharing information. If not, we risk losing our seat at the global table.

Tonight’s Forum Topic: “Open Research /Open Data: Transparency, Sharing and Reproducibility in Scholarship”

Panel: Karen DePauw | Laura Sands | Daniel Chen | David Radcliff | Sally Morton | Jonathan Petters | Moderator: Peter Potter

The forum ran over a handful of slides to frame the discussion: Following a brief history of publishing (print media evolving to include digital media), we were introduced to the barriers faced in this new age of research and information. First, there are some serious technical issues that must be overcome: Where will the data be stored? Who maintains these servers? Nothing is free; so how does “data” pay its own way? The logistics of sharing data are staggering as well.  And what about the legal aspects? In the forum, we were told about de-identification and data use agreements that are used by researchers to protect confidentiality while at the same time, making available data that needs to be shared.

Why does it need to be shared? Well. Because if we get to a point where we can easily share information so that research projects can be replicated, well, that’s a win for research and higher education all day long. What good is the research we do if we are not sharing it with the world? If allowed to, fresh eyes and fresh minds can help to reveal new ideas.

The other type of barriers we discussed were cultural ones. We talked about how not sharing “big science” (well funded science) is a disservice, especially to those who don’t have the resources to take on more sophisticated research topics. Other barriers include instances where research is only shared in-house or among a small group of researchers, thus the information bounces around an echo-chamber and never makes it out to the rest of the world.

So then the prompt was given and each member on the panel had the opportunity to speak and then questions were taken from the audience. The prompt went like this:

“One of the main arguments in favor of open research and open data is that the collective benefits to the research system far outweigh the drawbacks. Such benefits include helping to address the problem of reproducibility and opening up new research pathways. Do you agree with this argument? And what are the principle barriers you see in moving us towards this system?”

Each member of the panel had similar, but different responses to this prompt. In general, the group was in support of open access and open data. However, there were reservations: Sands made a great point about the burden of analyzing, formatting, and presenting rich qualitative data under the strict time constraint of 6 months after completion of the research. Not that the researcher doesn’t want to share, but that it takes great effort to prepare the data for future inquiry and, quite frankly, this exercise is a waste of the researcher’s time when their attention could be focused elsewhere.

This was my first experience listening to a panel of faculty discuss open access issues and I found it extremely interesting.
Ten years from now, what conversations will we be having about open access and data sharing?

How do you feel about open access publications and data sharing?

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