Sorbonne declaration on research data rights

Sorbonne declaration on research data rights

Earlier this year, representatives of nine university networks met at the Sorbonne to issue a declaration for the promotion of Open Data. But what, exactly, is Open Data, and how does it relate to the larger Open Science discussion?

Walking through the halls of Sorbonne University last month, I find an announcement on a wall that would catch the eye of anyone interested in Open Science (OS): it was the Sorbonne Declaration on Research Data Rights. Signed at this very university a few weeks ago, the Declaration was published on January 28 at the LERU website, and it is an important document to promote Open Data. But what exactly is Open Data?

When we talk about Open Science, most people think about Open Access (OA). This is probably the most discussed dimension of OS within the academic community. Not everyone knows that there is much more to OS, especially if you consider the five schools of thought proposed by Fetcher and Friesike (2013). From this perspective, OA is part of the Democratic School, one that calls for equality in the distribution and access of knowledge. Even though Open Data also exists in the same school, it can relate to other distinct and important ones:

  1. Pragmatic school: scientists working together, and sharing their research data, can be more efficient in the creation of knowledge;
  2. Infrastructure School: efficient research depends on proper tools and applications that, for instance, can make data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable);
  3. Measurement School: access to research data can be a pivotal part of peer-review and other types of evaluation to guarantee the quality of science and its reproducibility.

With all of these Open Data perspectives in mind, we can see the Sorbonne Declaration as a necessary call to action directed towards the international research community, funding bodies, and governments. The authors, from nine University networks1 (representing over 160 institutions worldwide), deliver an unequivocal message: everyone should be talking about sharing research data and, more than that, it’s time for people to put their money where their mouths are. In other words, the signatory universities declare their willingness to share their research data, and that they are committed to work for that to happen. But, it also says that this cannot happen successfully unless every other player in the game can deliver on their parts as well.

Thinking of all that from the CWTS perspective, our centre is currently developing its own Open Science policy, and our team has had the chance to discuss concerns and desires quite in line with those expressed by the Sorbonne Declaration. From the fruitful debate I have been involved over the past months, I can think of some critical challenges to make Open Data a reality and, for now, I want to share two of them for reflection and discussion:

  1. It takes time to open a data set and to document it properly. Will universities and funders acknowledge the time researchers dedicate to that activity in future rewards and incentives schemes?
  2. A researcher that makes “fresh data” available to the community helps accelerate scientific discoveries, as more people can work on the data at the same time. Will the sharing of such data be adequately rewarded to compensate for possible opportunity losses (since someone else may use your data to investigate and publish about something you had planned to do but did not have the time for)?

So, what is your opinion? What do you think it would take to make Open Data a reality? Do you believe the Sorbonne Declaration might be an important step to further the debate?

1 Association of American Universities (AAU), African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), Coordination of French Research-Intensive Universities (CURIF), German U15, League of European Research Universities (LERU), RU11 Japan, Russell Group, The Group of Eight (Go8), U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.


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