Time to recognize authorship of open data

Nature Editorial: “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.

But reality sometimes tells a different story. The world’s systems for evaluating science do not (yet) value openly shared data in the same way that they value outputs such as journal articles or books. Funders and research leaders who design these systems accept that there are many kinds of scientific output, but many reject the idea that there is a hierarchy among them.

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….

Universities, research groups, funding agencies and publishers should, together, start to consider how they could better recognize open data in their evaluation systems. They need to ask: how can those who have gone the extra mile on open data be credited appropriately?

There will always be instances in which researchers cannot be given access to human data. Data from infants, for example, are highly sensitive and need to pass stringent privacy and other tests. Moreover, making data sets accessible takes time and funding that researchers don’t always have. And researchers in low- and middle-income countries have concerns that their data could be used by researchers or businesses in high-income countries in ways that they have not consented to.

But crediting all those who contribute their knowledge to a research output is a cornerstone of science. The prevailing convention — whereby those who make their data open for researchers to use make do with acknowledgement and a citation — needs a rethink. As long as authorship on a paper is significantly more valued than data generation, this will disincentivize making data sets open. The sooner we change this, the better….(More)”.