Researcher Beware: Being Constructive About Open Science

A recent infographic about text and data mining used the image of, well, mining to illustrate some of the key statistics about its use today. While not so many researchers in Europe are making use of it for now, there’s a broad interest in starting, given its strong potential to accelerate innovation and new insights.

This chimes with an argument long promoted by the library sector – that we need a clear and simple copyright exception, in order to ensure that there are no legal barriers to mining something you already own or to which you have legal access.

However, the infographic does not just focus on statistics. Right at the bottom of this mine, there is some toxic waste, and talk of challenges and risks. This, combined with the mining metaphor as a whole (as a contact in Brussels has pointed out), gives the impression that TDM – arguably one of the most exciting opportunities for scientific progress, is somehow dark, dirty, and not something you would want to get involved in.

Subsequently, we have seen the rise of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, a coalition of publishers working to cut back on the sharing of the wrong versions of academic articles through a popular platform among researchers, ResearchGate.

Setting aside questions about the risks posed to other, non-commercial sites where articles are posted and shared – a particularly relevant issue in Europe right now – the name chosen for this group is perhaps telling.

That it should be considered ‘irresponsible’ for authors to share the wrong version of their work, rather than just a mistake, again takes the step of saying that a key driver of future scientific progress – collaboration and exchange between peers – is again something risky and uncertain. That words – responsible sharing – which are more redolent of a public health campaign than of science are used is telling.

Sharing, and mining, are both highly promising avenues for the future development of science, as well as areas where libraries are actively supporting progress (while of course respecting copyright). Rather than seeking to create doubt, fear or scepticism, all should be joining together to ensure the most rapid possible progress.

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