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Some thoughts from OpenCon 2014: open data

posted 01 Dec 2014 by Michael O'Hagan

Last Wednesday I attended the OpenCon 2014 London meetup. I went to find out a bit more about how students and early career researchers view open data, and think about how this might fit in with the goals of ChemBio Hub. I also wanted to get an idea of what tools are out there to help people discover science and make their work more efficient!

Many aspects of open science were discussed during the day: open access, open peer review and open education all featured at various points. Open data was perhaps the most relevant topic to our work at ChemBio Hub, so here a few thoughts on this.

What does open data mean in the context of science? It’s the idea that experimental data should be available for everyone to use and republish as they wish. This includes being free from restrictions like copyright and patents. It means ALL data and not just the best results or good story!

Ross Mounce and Jon Tennant talked about the relevance of this to the biological sciences. They argued the benefits of open data include addressing reproducibility issues and building confidence in results. I liked their observation that a PDF is a document meant for reading, not reuse – and so it can’t be the vehicle for open data.

In the discussion session that followed people spoke about the challenges and opportunities of open data. One point that stuck in my mind was the need to develop infrastructure and standard methods for sharing data. Another was that effective data sharing requires particular skills that might not be routinely taught to early career researchers right now.

What about ChemBio Hub?

ChemBio Hub aims to become a University-wide resource for researchers to manage their compound and assay data and share it with collaborators. Our approach to this is to provide the right (you guessed it) infrastructure and training. But will all data in the Hub be “open”?

From talking to the research community, our view is that you should decide what data you share, when you share it and who you share it with. Our job is to provide the simple and secure tools for you to do this with minimal effort and fuss.

But “open data” is becoming a big thing for public research funding organisations. Some now mandate that data is made publicly available as a condition of their grants (check out the recent announcement from the Gates Foundation). The talks at OpenCon suggest a growing recognition of the value of open data, and support for it, amongst the scientific community. So as well as offering secure data management, ChemBio Hub will allow scientists to make their data public available when they choose – such as by publishing straight to ChEMBL or PubChem at the press of a button. Best of both worlds!

If you have any thoughts on open data or research data management, we’d love to hear them. Get in touch at our usual address: info@chembiohub.ox.ac.uk.

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