The plate tectonics of research data publication

4 août 2011

Publié le 9 août 2011, par Thérèse Hameau

In biology, the fields of macromolecular structural biology and sequence bioinformatics have, since the 1970s, had established international databases for the deposition of data, and journal policies mandating such deposition prior to acceptance for publication of manuscripts describing the data. Similar good practices have developed more recently in other disciplines, notably astronomy. But these are the exceptions, and over the majority of scientific fields data publication remains a minority activity. For the most part, this is because the technical barriers to publication of research datasets remain so high, and the academic rewards so low, that such publication is undertaken only by the few who regard it as a moral imperative. However, new policies are combining with new technological capabilities to bring significant change to this publication landscape.

An analogy can perhaps be made with geological plate tectonics. The new policies of funders and journal publishers towards the open publication of research datasets arising from publicly funded research can be likened to a tectonic plate slowly moving forward with inexorable force, that is colliding with the massive stationary continental plate of established scientific practice, in which data are traditionally regarded as belonging to the research group that generated them, in which data sharing occurs only between trusted colleagues on the basis of personal request, and in which the only publications that are truly valued are those of journal articles.

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