The open data revolution won’t happen unless the research system values the sharing of data as much as authorship on papers.
At times, it seems there’s an unstoppable momentum towards the principle that data sets should be made widely available for research purposes (also called open data). Research funders all over the world are endorsing the open data-management standards known as the FAIR principles (which ensure data are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable). Journals are increasingly asking authors to make the underlying data behind papers accessible to their peers. Data sets are accompanied by a digital object identifier (DOI) so they can be easily found. And this citability helps researchers to get credit for the data they generate.
To move us from empty platitudes and unrealised policies to widespread data sharing, we need to incentivise open data and have consistent guidelines to recognise researchers who share data. This is another example of an area where we need to do a better job of rewarding good research practices – such as following the FAIR standards.
In practice, those in powerful positions in science tend not to regard open data sets in the same way as publications when it comes to making hiring and promotion decisions or awarding memberships to important committees, or in national evaluation systems. The open-data revolution will stall unless this changes.
This week, Richard Bethlehem at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Jakob Seidlitz at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and their colleagues publish research describing brain development ‘charts’ (R. A. I. Bethlehem et al. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04554-y; 2022). These are analogous to the charts that record height and weight over the course of a person’s life, which researchers and clinicians can access.