A new study says researchers want open data, but a number of factors keep it hidden.

The report shows that although the benefits of open research data are well known, in practice, confusion remains within the researcher community around when and how to share research data.

The report, Open Data: The Researcher Perspective, is based on various research methods including a quantitative analysis of bibliometric and publication data, a global survey of 1,200 researchers and three case studies including in-depth interviews with key individuals involved in data collection, analysis and deposition in the fields of soil science, human genetics and digital humanities.

The findings include:

  • Researchers acknowledge the benefits of open data, but data sharing practices are still limited. Reasons mentioned include: not enough training in data sharing, sharing data is not associated with credit or reward, research data management and privacy issues, proprietary aspects and ethics
  • Data sharing mandates by funders (or publishers) are not considered a driver by researchers to increase their data sharing practices; 64 per cent of researchers believe they own the data they generate for their research
  • Public data sharing primarily occurs through the current publishing system; less than 15 per cent of researchers share data in a data repository. When researchers do share their data directly, most (>80 per cent) share with direct collaborators
  • 34 per cent of researchers surveyed do not publish data at all. Those who do share data still use more traditional processes, such as through publication of data aggregated into tables and annexes
  • Analysis of publication in data journals reveals scattered practices: dedicated data journals are a new and small-scale phenomenon; the popularity is increasing quickly
  • There is an almost even split between researchers who believe there are no clear standards for citing published data (45 per cent) and those who believe there are clear standards (41 per cent)
  • Data-sharing practices depend on the field: there is no general approach. In intensive data-sharing fields, data sharing practice is embedded into the research design and execution

“The findings presented in this report help us – as well as research leaders, university and government policy makers – better understand where pain points lie when it comes to the sentiment around and the reality of data sharing practices among researchers,” says Wouter Haak, Vice-President of Research Data Management Solutions at Elsevier.

“These are invaluable insights for us to ensure researchers are given the tools and knowledge they need to successfully share their data.”

Paul Wouters, Director of CWTS and Professor of Scientometrics, said: “The science system is undergoing a major transition: from a professional system where the researcher is in the lead, to an open innovation system with multiple stakeholders.

“One of the ambitions in the Dutch National Plan Open Science is to make research data available in a standardized way for reuse. The study presented here shows that this reality is still far away. It calls for stronger incentives and rewards to implement open data practices. It is time we address the fundamental questions around accessibility in order to be responsible to society,” he said.

The report and all underling report raw data are freely available.