Open science: still a long way to go

Open Science promotes a model of scientific research in which the results and all the data generated during the research are made available to society in order to create a more collaborative, democratic and transparent science system in all its phases. A study of Juliana Rafaghellimember of the [email protected] group in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciencesand Stefania Mancaresearcher at the Institute of Educational Technology of the National Research Council (Genoa, Italy), examined the open data publishing practices in ResearchGate, one of the most popular academic social networks used by the scientific community. The results, published in the journal Online Information Reviewshow that most of the research data analyzed has never been read or cited, and also reveals that these data sets barely follow FAIR standards (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) for open access scientific publications.

“There is a growing interest in open science among the research community, but these results suggest that releasing open data could be a test, an exploration or a way to show that something is released, rather than ‘a genuine and rigorous open practice that allows data to be accessed and used by other scientists and by society at large. inconsistent practices undermine the democratization of knowledge promised by open science“, has explained Juliana Rafaghellithe main author of the article.

Nevertheless, the researcher pointed out that “the the storyline is changing rapidly and could improve. As an example, she mentioned how quickly research, and that related to vaccines in particular, has circulated during the pandemic.

An academic social network to make research more visible

The study was based on an analysis of 752 datasets, records of scientific data uploaded to the ResearchGate platform. This university social network contains profiles of researchers and public pages, as well as links to publications and complementary research material, such as datasets in the form of tables or images. As it is a social network, researchers often use it to improve the visibility and circulation of their academic work, although it is not an institutional platform, nor is it formally taken into account in evaluation processes. However, its use “raises the same issues of information quality, appropriation of data by administrators and respect for privacy that we have already encountered on other major social media platforms”, underlines the researcher. .

The researchers evaluated the extracted datasets based on the FAIR standards – a set of criteria that a data release must follow to make the data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. This standard was established by the European Commission and adopted by the UOC as part of its open knowledge policy. “Being findable means that research data must be in open institutional repositories and not in a journal to which access is paid, or in a private archive (even in the cloud). To be accessible, it must be stored in a way that anyone can unpack them, and that doesn’t depend on a proprietary program. And to be interoperable and reusable, they must include metadata that meets shared standards so that they can be understood, and that people can work with them,” explained the researcher. “All of these characteristics allow data to be more visible and therefore knowledge can circulate more widely,” she said.

the beginning of the use of open data for open science

The results of this quantitative analysis showed that the majority (562 out of 752) of the scientific data sets analysis did not meet any of the FAIR criteria, and less than 1% fulfilled three of the four parameters. “We are in a prehistoric era of open data, in which open data is published, but no attention is paid to the user behind it, nor to the practices favoring the reuse of the data”, underlined Raffaghelli.

The poor quality of data published in open access is not exclusive to this academic social network. Indeed, these results have been reproduced in another recent quantitative study by the same author, who analyzed 6 million records in the Figshare open-access repository with similar results. “Both studies show that when it comes to open science, theory is good, but practice is still weakand a lot of work is needed to be consistent with the utopian vision of open knowledge,” said Raffaghelli.

A replica of the academic status quo

The study also looked at the social structure interactions, by linking the number of online readings and the number of citations of publications with the public profile of each researcher. The results showed a replica of the academic status quo, since most of the datasets were published primarily by men working in institutions in the European Union, North America, and Asia, and holding senior academic positions. They were also the most cited. “We found a link between published data and senior and renowned profiles (a high search score), in terms of receiving more citations from the search community, which shows the importance of reputation. However, these citations are in very few cases related to the quality of the open access publication: only 15 of the 11,629 total reads were for an open dataset that met the 4 FAIR criteria, and 10,201 were for the 562 datasets that do not meet any of the FAIR criteria,” she stressed.

Data literacy beyond technical training

Faced with this situation, the researcher underlined “the importance of data literacy within the research community,” but also called for training beyond the technical field: “Developing better open data and its reuse as innovative open research practices requires technical knowledge, but also a commitment to the political context and strategies needed to improve the quality and ethics of what it means to be an open network researcher, oriented towards how research itself has impact on society.”

A strategic commitment of the UOC

Last year, the UOC approved the open knowledge policy which promotes the free availability not only of scientific and academic publications, a measure previously included in the 2010 open access policy which it replaces, but also those of students, institutional documentation and research data. According to Pastora Martinez SamperVice President of Globalization and Cooperation, the goal of this plan is “to strengthen and solidify our commitment to the open science model that is spreading around the world, which includes research data and resources from learning, for example. We are transforming the UOC into a open hub that projects knowledge while connecting with external contributions and thriving,” she emphasized.

This is one of the breakthroughs made by the institution based on the Open Knowledge Action Plan launched in 2019. The documentation published in open access in the UOC O2 Depotthe creation of the FAIR Data Management Service, training plans and various related initiatives To do the UOC a more porous university have all increased through this strategy. This article was published in open access format following the agreements concluded by the UOC Library with Emerald (the journal’s publisher) based on the University’s strategy.

The research was funded by the project “Professional learning ecologies for digital scholarship: steps for the modernization of higher education” under the Ramón y Cajal program of the Spanish Ministry of Economy I RYC-2016- 19589.

This UOC research supports the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) 4 (Quality Education).

Reference article:

Rafaghelli, Juliana Elisa; Manca, Stefania. Exploring the Social Activity of Open Research Data on ResearchGate: Implications for Researcher Data Literacy.

Online Information Review [internet]. January 2022. Doi: 10.1108/oir-05-2021-0255


UOC’s research and innovation (R&I) helps overcome pressing challenges facing global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and the humanities and social sciences with particular emphasis on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

More than 500 researchers and 51 research groups work at the University seven faculties and two research centers: the Interdisciplinary Institute of the Internet (IN3) and the Online Health Center (eHC).

The University also cultivates e-learning innovations in its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer through the hubbik Platform.

The United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for UOC teaching, research and innovation. More information: #UOC25years

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