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How about a few extra $ trillion? Discussing the value of open data

Monday, December 01, 2014   (0 Comments)
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Stephan Lewandowsky

What’s the value of knowing the Emissions of CH4 from Enteric Fermentation in Cattle in the Caribbean in 2010? (It’s 536.8272 gigagrams, by the way.)

According to McKinsey and Company, publicly available “open data”—particularly government data—can add between $3 and $5 trillion to the global economy each year. The availability of such data is said to help companies segment markets, define new products and services, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.

At first glance this seems to have little bearing on the core activities of the Psychonomic Society. However, it turns out that some of the potential value of open data is expected to materialize in the education sector (somewhere between $890 billion and $1 trillion). This possibility should be sufficiently intriguing to interest at least some members of the Society.

There is, of course, a more immediate reason why “open data” should be of interest to all of us: During the last decade, there has been a growing concern about the public availability of research data and experimental materials in the field. Although data sharing—at least among “competent professionals”—is enshrined into the APA Ethics guidelines, there are numerous published reports that obtaining other researchers’ data often proves impossible.

There are many reasons for this, and the issue of “open data” is undergoing vigorous and continued debate in many disciplines. This issue is too nuanced and complex for a single post, although the complexity is readily illustrated: On the one hand, it has been shown that sharing data can increase citation rates, thereby providing a strong incentive for researchers to make their data publicly available where possible and permissible. On the other hand, in some areas of psychology—particularly clinical or health-related domains—privacy concerns are may prevent open access to data.

Several initiatives are currently seeking to facilitate access to research data and materials. I am part of one of those initiatives, known as the Agenda for Open Research because I believe that wherever possible and within reasonable limits, research data and materials should be made available to permit exploration, replication, or re-analysis by other scholars. (To be perfectly clear, I am writing this post as one of the contributors to the agenda, in order to stimulate discussion. This post represents nothing other than my personal views.)

Under the leadership of Richard Morey, the Agenda is a “bottom-up” effort that seeks to facilitate open access to research data and materials via the review process. The reasoning underlying the agenda is outlined in a paper—currently in draft form here—which also explains the necessary exceptions to this “open-data” idea. The Agenda authors are well aware of the fact that ethical or privacy concerns and so on may not permit sharing of data in all cases, and they are also aware of—and do not countenance—an aggressive or adversarial use of “open data”.

In a nutshell, the idea behind the agenda is that when asked to review a paper, from 1 January 2016 onward, signatories of the Agenda would decline to give a full review if the researchers do not make their data and materials available, or explain in the manuscript why the data and materials are not open. Those ideas are encapsulated in these guidelines.

Several standard reviewer stances are currently being considered, including the following example:  "Thanks for the invitation to review. In the past I would have been happy to accept this invitation but I am now a signatory to the Agenda for Open Research ( Since January 1 2016, this Agenda commits me adhere to the principles of open science in my own research and reviewing practices. Because your journal does not require authors to adhere to an open data policy I am therefore declining to review. However, if in your editorial judgement the authors have voluntarily adhered to the Agenda, over and above the requirements of your journal policy, please let me know and I will be happy to server as a reviewer."

As noted in the Conclusion of their draft paper, the authors of the Agenda “…hope that researchers who value open research practices—even ones who have not yet put them into action—will join us in signing the Agenda and help promote open research. We must let current and future researchers know that openness is not just a value we talk about, but one we make manifest.”

I hope that this initiative will stimulate some discussion about the Agenda—and Open Data more generally—within the Psychonomic Society.

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