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UK University Researchers Must Make Data Available 352

Posted by timothy
from the time-to-pay-the-public-piper dept.
Sara Chan writes "In a landmark ruling, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office has decided that researchers at a university must make all their data available to the public. The decision follows from a three-year battle by mathematician Douglas J. Keenan, who wants the data to do his own analysis on it. The university researchers have had the data for many years, and have published several papers using the data, but had refused to make the data available. The data in this case pertains to global warming, but the decision is believed to apply to any field: scientists at universities, which are all public in the UK, can now not claim data from publicly-funded research as their private property." There's more at the BBC, at Nature Climate Feedback, and at Keenan's site.
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UK University Researchers Must Make Data Available

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  • by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation.gmail@com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:18PM (#31932404) Journal

    The public pays for gathering the data, the public should have access to that data. Kinda hard to find fault with that.

  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:23PM (#31932482) Homepage Journal

    Science journals have long fought this, because their profit model is strongest when they own copyright and are the exclusive publishers of a paper. Peer review and scientific principles don't mesh well with peer review though, and many academes have either "published" their papers on their own websites or found other ways to try to work around the journals.

    Ridding peer review and science of copyright would be a great improvement.

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:28PM (#31932552) Homepage Journal

    no, peer review is good. It helps to point out mistakes or inconsistencies. Getting rid of scientific journals is quasi-good (less profit motive in science, but also less chance to get work out there).

  • Re:Good and bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:28PM (#31932554)
    "Scientists" scared of goofy analysis are priests, not scientists. Take their funding away and use their PhD parchment for toilet paper.
  • Re:Good and bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:32PM (#31932604) Journal

    On the other hand, this will likely produce a whole stream of deliberately inaccurate analyses with ulterior motives behind them.

    But with the data public, it'll be easier to shoot them down for picking, choosing, skewing, and what else.

    There is no reason why this kind of data should ever be "secret"

  • Awful summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Protoslo (752870) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:34PM (#31932630)
    It turns out that "the data" are measurements of petrified tree rings, which were collected in the course of (presumably) a government grant-funded study. Now Queen's University researchers must compile the data for release because of the (UK) Freedom of Information Act. The scientists quoted in TFA apparently did not use the ring data for anything relating to climate studies, but Keenan has that purpose in mind.

    Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, said that scientists now needed to work on the presumption that if research is publicly funded, the data ought to be made publicly available.

    That doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Appendices with raw data are often included already in the online editions of journals. Of course, if the ruling applies to all data generated in the course of a study, whether it is used in publications or not, it could be onerous indeed.

  • by eviloverlordx (99809) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:38PM (#31932660)

    So responding to an AC is trolling? Someone needs to learn to moderate.

  • Re:Good and bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rising Ape (1620461) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:46PM (#31932756)

    That doesn't matter. The important thing is that the attacks are made. Even if every one is shown to be completely wrong, people will still remember all those (erroneous) anti-global warming reports. Especially since the media will enthusiastically report the initial attack and relegate the news of its rebuttal to a small paragraph on page 34, if they report it at all.

  • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:47PM (#31932776)

    Opening the data will encourage further research. The data will be available for others to use, instead of forcing constant duplication.

    "Standing on the shoulders of giants" means to build on what has been done before. Hiding the source data shows just how "little" you are.

  • by Rising Ape (1620461) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:52PM (#31932856)

    I am more concerned with the time and effort it will take to format data for external users.
    An accompanying more detailed methodology will surely have to be provided for the data to be used correctly.

    That is indeed an issue. Presumably the methodology is already published, as is the rule for scientific papers. What could happen is that competent scientists have to waste their time debunking incompetent analyses by axe-grinding cranks.

    Actually, if the requirement is specified up front as terms for the grant, I'm not opposed to it. I don't think it'll do any good, mind you, as a rule all that's useful is published, and scientists are generally happy to cooperate if you need more, as long as you have honest intent. But the current system is a charter for arseholes using FoI requests to harass scientists.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @06:52PM (#31932858)

    Creationists regularly mangle papers, taking quotes out of context and all.

    Get ready for an onslaught of mangled data analysis, with data being taken out of context, the results published to some blog, and people making policy decision based on those blog postings.

    the media will focus on the new controversies this will spawn

    That's a guarantee. While in theory, I welcome this development, I suspect that in practice it will lead to more chaos than before. Not because the data is shoddy, but because some meteorologist will think that running a data set through an excel curve fitting algorithm is science.

  • by jacksonj04 (800021) <nick@nickjackson.me> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:09PM (#31933056) Homepage

    You know the multi-billion dollar LHC? Guess what they did their first physics on. Not finding new exotic particles, but proving that what we think we know so far still stands up. Duplicating data is exactly how things get proven and disproven. If Group A and Group B use exactly the same source data there's no possibility of Group B proving Group A's research wrong.

  • Re:Good and bad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:14PM (#31933128)

    But with the data public, it'll be easier to shoot them down for picking, choosing, skewing, and what else.

    Not sure what regulations are on "release all data to the public" but seems like there are loopholes big enough to drive a bus through. For instance, in my field, no one but me knows how many cells I looked at. Maybe that thing I said happens in these cells happens in all those cells. Maybe I looked at 300 before seeing one doing what I said, took a picture of that one, and that was that. All my data would be that one cell I cherrypicked.

    Even if I did take pictures of all 300, no one knows but me. Those other 299 can dissapear.

    If I'm -not- evil though, this could hurt me. If I looked at say 3000 cells, and 10 were doing a thing that I thought was significant, I could have my reasons. Maybe the other 2990 were the wrong cell type or something. Being the expert, that might be obvious to me just from looking at them. A non expert looking at them might not see that. They would just see that out of 3000 cells, I chose the 10 that supported my data. They might call foul without bothering to have me explain myself.

    There's no reason the data should be secret, but most data doesn't stand on it's own, and writing up supporting information to -all data gathered- just isn't going to happen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:17PM (#31933156)

    some meteorologist will think that running a data set through an excel curve fitting algorithm is science.

    Nope -- it's only science if you adjust and filter the data first to make it match your truth. Resist releasing your data though, others may adjust and filter it other ways to make it match their truth. All science in the world of research driven by political agendas and egotistical arrogance.

    Disclose, when in doubt disclose more. Anything less in scientific arenas where others can't repeat your experiments is just a symptom of fear, insecurity, and lack of confidence that your conclusions will stand up to the view and study of many brains (some better than yours, some worse).

    Same argument for why FOSS is better - many eyes reviewing (in theory) and rapid fixes.

  • Re:yro my ass (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:21PM (#31933206) Homepage Journal

    errr... no always.

    Putting data into peoples hands whoa aren't experts often leads to bad things. See every non expert who believed Wakefield study because they didn't understand how to interpret data. In that case kids died , and kids are still dying.

    In principle I agree with you, but we live in an are where everyone thinks they are a qualified expert in anything. That simply isn't true, and no good will come out of this.

    The data wan't show a flaw in the study because it wasn't used, but he will inevitably cherry pick data to 'prove' the study is wrong. And people like Hannah Devlin are always happy to publish claims without proper study. So no good can come from this, and people need to understand that.

    It's hard problem to solve.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:23PM (#31933224) Homepage Journal

    You say that until he gets on a major talk show, talks about his improperly interpret results and suddenly 20 million people are parroting his incorrect results.

    Suddenly it's not a good thing because those same outlets will not give the same time to actual experts.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:25PM (#31933268)

    some meteorologist will think that running a data set through an excel curve fitting algorithm is science.

    Nope -- it's only science if you adjust and filter the data first to make it match your truth.

    I don't think that's what he was saying. He's saying this will lend itself to overly simplistic interpretations. Which is a good prediction in climatology, considering what people got out of "climategate."

  • by thepike (1781582) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:27PM (#31933286)

    I totally agree. If people just start looking at each others data instead of verifying it, a lot of mistakes (or fraudulent data [wikipedia.org]) will never be caught.

    Also, I have to wonder what the timeline for releasing data is. My research is funded with government money (NIH and NSF) but it can take years to get enough data to make a worthwhile paper. If I have to release my data before then it will hurt my ability to publish papers without getting scooped. You could end up with a whole closet industry of people just data mining the data others have had to disclose. And, here's the main catch, if you don't have to release results you haven't yet reported on, the problem isn't solved at all because I could just choose to "not yet publish" any results that don't agree with what I want to say. Nothing says I ever have to publish results I get, so why wouldn't I just sit on them?

    Not that sitting on data just because it doesn't agree is a good thing, but it happens. And plenty of good data goes unpublished (experiments fail, uninteresting results happen, journals don't publish negative results very often etc) so what about that data? Overall this law isn't going to help anything, and will just cause issues.

  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:33PM (#31933360)

    What could happen is that competent scientists have to waste their time debunking incompetent analyses by axe-grinding cranks.

    It's much more likely that incompetent scientists will be debunked by more competent analysis, because as soon as there is any controversy regarding a study the scientific community swarms to verify one way or the other.

    Also, it's just as important to know what data was disregarded, and why (there are a plethora of valid reasons, but there are even more invalid reasons) as it is to know what was included. The GP's point about the tree ring data that was collected but never used, why wasn't it used? Was it simply because they weren't interested in doing a tree-ring study, and used the data for something else entirely? Or did it make their model not work quite right so they tossed it out? How is anybody to know if they can't look at the data they collected?

    Furthermore, if the raw data is not provided, you cannot verify that the models and statistical conclusions are correct. What if there is a problem with the model the researchers were using? Well, if you plug the data into a better model, or even just a different model, you'll see a big difference if one of them is wrong. Climate science relies heavily on computer models, and often multiple researchers will use the exact same model in their study, so it's not hard to get a systemic error across multiple studies.

    In other words, how can you verify anybody's science without the original data they observed to begin with? I'm never going to look at this data, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with it, but I know there are a lot of climate researchers who are chomping at the bit to verify these studies.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:39PM (#31933428)
    If Group A and Group B use exactly the same source data there's no possibility of Group B proving Group A's research wrong.

    Wrong. If Group B cannot duplicate Group A's analysis of the data, that proves that Group A did something wrong and probably came to the wrong conclusion.

    If Group B cannot duplicate the experiment and get the same data (and knowing that means being able to compare both sets) that calls the experiment as a whole into question.

    There is more to science than simply applying equation A to data B and getting number C.

    This hubbub all came about because of the difficulty in prying the source data out of the hands of the guy who produced the "hockey stick" figures. It's covered in the book "Broken Consensus" I think it's called. The "hockey stick" is not the "source data", the source data is all of the individual readings from all the instruments, prior to corrections for sampling errors or known issues. One cannot verify the quality of the "hockey stick" result without having the source data and being able to verify the processing steps that were done to it.

    The downside to free and open access to all data is that research groups get grants to collect AND process the data to come up with results. Opening the data up for free access means that other groups, who have more interest in scooping than being right, have more ability to do that scooping. That leaves the people who did the work in the cold. There is good reason to delay opening the data until the group being paid to collect it has a chance to use it.

  • Re:yro my ass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:40PM (#31933440) Journal
    "No good"?

    None?

    Are you quite sane?

  • by SETIGuy (33768) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:52PM (#31933562) Homepage
    Sure, I'll give you the data. But I wasn't funded to put the data in a format that's easy to understand. I've also got a job, and I don't get paid to support a competitor's data analysis attempts. Good luck.
  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:54PM (#31933594)
    Wikipedia has proven that peer review can be supported for almost nothing.

    And that's the value you get from it. Allowing everyone to "peer review" everything results in the "truth" being the result of a majority vote, not the result of it being true.

    Peer review requires peers, not random people off the street.

    The storage and administrative costs for all research papers should cost at most $50/researcher,

    You're confusing the cost of "peer review" with the cost of archiving a paper. Peer review takes place prior to publishing the paper. The value of many journals, compared to "random website" is that there IS peer review, and you are less likely to find random babbling and incoherent thought in the journal.

    However, Open Access is the wave of the future, so you will eventually get peer reviewed work online, like you want.

    Of course, this discussion is about the data behind the papers, not the papers themselves. I don't know of a single paper that includes the "raw source" data it was based on. That's the purpose of the paper, to analyze and theorize.

  • by michaelwv (1371157) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:01PM (#31933662)
    Absolutely. The public should have access to the data. Public grants then also need to pay for curating the data. Libraries aren't free, archives aren't free, package data in an actually useful form takes precious time, which is scientists most precious resource. Having data in a form that is useful to the 25 people in your research group is very different than providing data that can be used by thousands of people. It's analogous to the difference between the quick bash script you have that backs up your movies to your external hard drive, and having something that you're willing to distribute to 1000 people and provide support.
  • by finarfinjge (612748) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:06PM (#31933738)
    I'll probably get flamebait or troll for this too, but this has always been the danger of the over-advocacy of climate change. Climate science is not even close to "settled". Nor is evolution, nor is physics. Well established and able to make verifiable predictions yes. Settled. No. The direct result of making the absurd claim that some cutting edge field of science is settled is this. Some complete moron then says "see, global warming wasn't settled, so evolution is bunk too" I've seen similar idiotic comments about plate tectonics as well. A number of years ago (far enough back it hasn't been cached), I wrote here that as scientists, we had better be right about climate change. Now we reap what we have sown. If it annoys you that idiots make claims like "global warming wasn't settled, so how can you be sure about evolution", look to the strident supporters of the cause. They (I'm talking about realclimate etc., here) are as responsible as Beck. By hammering any and all dissent without any concern as to the validity of the claims, they have made this type of comment inevitable. We will be seeing much more of it and we have only ourselves to blame.
  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:16PM (#31933842)
    Who cares? Are you arguing for science, or for little confidentiality fiefdoms?

    There is literally no point in doing Science (with a capital S) if the data isn't available for scrutiny by everyone. Without scrutiny, it's all he said/she said, rumours and bullshit.

    As to signing confidentiality agreements etc, there comes a time when a researcher has to decide: does he want to contribute to human knowledge (=> don't sign) or does he just want to wank around with secret data (=> sign it)?

    It sucks to be unable to use purportedly available data, just because it can't be divulged, but it's better that way in the long run.

    Unsupported data is worse than useless, it's a cancer that grows every time someone else quotes the unsupported result, until it gets to the level of unchallenged folk wisdom within the community.

  • by the gnat (153162) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:17PM (#31933852)

    my experience of this situation comes from protein crystallography and deposition of the hard won data there

    Ah, a fellow crystallographer. Welcome, brother!

    I was about to post a similar comment. However, I only agree with you up to a point. Once you publish a paper reporting the structure, all of the raw data should be made publicly available (including diffraction images - although deposition of those isn't quite feasible yet). I would apply the same standard to any other field: you shouldn't publish until you are comfortable releasing the underlying data. I don't care if you're still working on some super-secret follow-up paper, as far as I'm concerned your publication is useless if I can't go to the PDB and download the coordinates. And if you're using public resources to solve your structure (like NIH funding, or one of the DOE's synchrotrons), your results are public property.

    There was once intense resistance to even mandating coordinate deposition (long before I got started in the field), which just sounds insane now. Some of the people doing the most complaining were in fact some of the best funded. A decade later, the field went through the same bullshit whining with regard to reflection data. Now most journals require both coordinates and reflections, and not only has the field not suffered in the slightest, many more studies are now possible and the majority of structures can be solved without experimental phasing. If we'd left things the way the naysayers wanted it, every group attempting to study, say, ribosome structure would have to either plead with more senior groups for coordinates in order to solve their structures (and, almost certainly, further bloat the author lists and potentially cede some control over their project - which, I imagine, would have suited the senior faculty just fine), or waste half a decade making heavy metal derivatives. It is difficult to convey to non-crystallographers how huge a waste of time and money - most of it coming from tax dollars - this scenario would be.

    Now, where it gets messy is situations where you have to release data ASAP, instead of waiting until publication. American structural genomics groups do this (it may be a requirement of the NIH), but PDB deposition is more of an endpoint in itself for them, and no one is going to bother trying to scoop them on most of those proteins. Genomics centers also do this. A grad school classmate of mine worked on a sequencing project where much of the gruntwork was performed by the DOE, and they had extremely strict release rules. She complained that other groups (of bioinformaticists) could start analyzing the data before she'd had a chance to complete her own studies, because the outsiders didn't have to spend a lot of time thoroughly annotating the genome before publishing. (I don't think it held her back in the end - she graduated with several papers in Science.) In many situations like this, to obtain the data you need to agree to an embargo on publications, to prevent that sort of underhanded behavior. I saw an article retraction recently where the scientific content was undisputed, but the investigators had (unintentionally, it appeared) broken an embargo by submitting the paper when they did.

    In general, I think the scientific community - especially the part funded by the public - should err on the side of maximum disclosure of data, and I don't have much sympathy for the researchers in this story (and I'm not particularly sympathetic towards "climate skeptics" either). I do worry that rules will be used to harass researchers in supposedly controversial fields (Richard Lenski's adventures with Conservapedia are a particularly nauseating example), but as a scientist, I also think the benefits of making massive amounts of data available to anyone are far too important to let these risks bother us, and the drawbacks of keeping such data private are much worse than having to fight off the occasional knuckle-dragging lunatic.

  • by sl149q (1537343) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:18PM (#31933866)

    If people cannot replicate your results it isn't science.

    And with Climate Science part of the process is showing how you collected and interpreted the data. If you are not willing to share the raw data so other researchers can attempt to replicate your methods and results then don't bother publishing.

  • Re:Good and bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by finarfinjge (612748) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:20PM (#31933892)
    MOD PARENT UP!!

    The problem that the climate scientists have created for themselves is that they are hiding the data from everyone. Up until a few months ago, these requests were relatively rare. Some of the requesting parties actually have fairly strong credentials. Steve McIntyre may be hated by the folk at realclimate, but he is an IPCC reviewer. To stonewall him is a little different than refusing to provide it to Jenny McCarthy.
  • Re:Peers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sl149q (1537343) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:23PM (#31933926)

    As opposed to the proselytizers who are funded by the NGO's and the new "Green" capitalists and rent-seekers.

    One of the more interesting bits of the Climategate emails showed that Mann was happy to share his data EXCEPT to people who he thought would disagree with his methods and results.

    And in this case Mann was also the recipient of the tree ring data showing that again if you agreed with the owners ideas he had no problem getting you copies of what you needed.

  • Re:Good and bad (Score:1, Insightful)

    by craklyn (1533019) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:23PM (#31933932)
    For many academic scientists (i.e. professors, post-docs, graduate students), a part of their pay is the ability to publish their research findings. It takes long thought and work to devise and carry out experiments which gather pertinent data. It's not unreasonable to allow some time for these scientists to analyze their data and properly understand it.
    If you mandate all data be immediately made public, the researcher can be "scooped" by anyone. This is bad for science because it removes the incentive to actually gather the data. This is one argument for why data may be kept internal, at least for a while.
  • by OrwellianLurker (1739950) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:38PM (#31934074)
    I am a pretty big cynic, and I remain unconvinced that AGW is a significant problem. It doesn't help that the raw data isn't disclosed. I wish scientists would go back to doing science and quit trying to be policy makers.
  • by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @08:49PM (#31934154)

    You say that until he gets on a major talk show, talks about his improperly interpret results and suddenly 20 million people are parroting his incorrect results.

    The problem is that we dont apply the same standard to a talk show as we do to a scientific institution.

    If a talk show spreads incorrect information absolutely nothing happens, if a scientific institution does the same there will be a royal commission, investigation, scrutiny and even if they are found innocent someone's career is still ruined.

    What we need is to get rid of the double standard, lets just say if Box News makes a deliberately misleading statement about the Australian Hoop Snake they should be investigates, charged and the editor, producer and reporter fired and barred from working in the media field again. If we started giving news agencies with the same scrutiny and punishments as universities then the level of misinformation would drop dramatically.

    Published scientific reports should also have the data published publicly, however there should be severe punishments for the misuse of this data to spread misinformation and attempts to ruin careers.

  • by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation.gmail@com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:16PM (#31934390) Journal

    Sure, I'll give you the data. But I wasn't funded to put the data in a format that's easy to understand. I've also got a job, and I don't get paid to support a competitor's data analysis attempts. Good luck.

    Your so-called competitors will be sure to mention your viewpoints when your funding runs out and you apply for more. Not only is your research not easy to understand and you don't let others analyze the data to attempt to reproduce your conclusions, but you think that other members in the scientific community are competitors and you feel a need to sabotage their efforts by making it difficult for them to use taxpayer-funded data to advance science. If science is such a business to you, then how about you fund it all yourself from the profits you make?

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:20PM (#31934426)

    not really.
    Your problems with these possible situations are based on the deeply flawed system we have in place now.

    Give academics the respect and credit they deserve for collecting vast quantities of high quality data rather than merely for the 2 page paper they write about some interesting statistical anomalies they found in said data and this ceases to be a problem.

    The way papers are written, reviewed and published today and the way academics are given credit is based on a system hundreds of years old when it costly to print hundreds of pages of boring figures.

    Now data is cheap beyond words. Publishing a few hundred words or a gigabyte is little different when your audience is fairly small and the way academics publish should reflect that but it's too hidebound and dogmatic to do that.

    A professor who does nothing but produce a high quality and hard to acquire dataset deserves credit even if he comes to no conclusions at all.

    The problem is with the system and with the way academics think.
    Not with this possible change.

    Fix your system.

  • by the gnat (153162) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:35PM (#31934556)

    Give academics the respect and credit they deserve for collecting vast quantities of high quality data rather than merely for the 2 page paper they write about some interesting statistical anomalies they found in said data and this ceases to be a problem.

    The problem is that interpreting raw scientific data is enormously time-consuming, because there's so much information available that we can't possibly assimilate it all. I have a PhD in biochemistry and advanced training in crystallography, but I couldn't look at a ribosome structure and easily figure out what it meant, because I don't know very much about ribosomes. The people solving the structure, on the other hand, have exactly the background necessary to perform detailed analyses, and they will undoubtedly notice things that completely escape me. And I think you're understating the value of the scientific literature. A 2 page paper on statistical anomalies won't get you a faculty position at a major university, but a well-written 10 page paper on the meaning of a crystal structure certainly can. This is even more the case if they took additional time to perform non-crystallographic experiments to verify new hypotheses.

    I don't deny that there are issues with our system, but you're completely missing the point of writing papers. Simply generating massive amounts of data isn't considered science - figuring out what it means is. I say this as someone who is very good at generating data quickly, but not particularly good at interpreting it. Now I write data analysis software instead, and leave the question-asking to more suitable minds.

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @09:41PM (#31934620) Journal
    People making bad conclusions from good data is better than making (any) conclusions from no or bad data. By using good data, it helps give the proper scientists a chance to use logic and reason to correct people. We can't change the minds of creationists because we are not drawing our conclusions from the same 'data'. People believe in global warming because of data, now deny it because of doubt in the data. They may be impulsive and believe whoever speaks the loudest, but it does imply we can bring them to the next step and compare analyses, not just data.
  • by Vornzog (409419) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @10:28PM (#31934916)

    I work for a government lab that produces DNA sequences. We are obligated to release our data into a public database as soon as it has been verified for any samples that come from the US, and we release most of our foreign data, too, unless the other country involved gets pissy.

    Nothing good comes of that speed. We get crackpots thinking they've made major discoveries (not one real one yet), we get scooped for major papers (think Science), sometimes by our own collaborators using only our data and none of theirs, and we generally spend a lot of time, effort and *more money* on media spin control. There is such a thing as releasing the raw data too fast.

    We get a *ton* of FoI requests, too - people think we are withholding the good data, or being stubborn by not providing them composite statistics in exactly the format they want to see. The truth is, up until I got involved, the data management technology was so far behind the current bog-standard capabilities of the rest of the world, we couldn't actually answer the questions that were being asked, barring Herculean effort.

    Don't get me wrong, I think we *should* be releasing all of this data - delayed by just a bit. That way the people who generate it would have a better shot to get recognition/credit for their work, the crackpots would have less ammo for their rants, the press would be more likely to get the facts right the first time, and the scientific integrity of the whole process would be upheld, as everyone would get the raw data to review. It'd probably save a ton of money.

    The "reward" for doing publicly funded research is that you keep getting funded.

    Collecting good data is hard work, and the payoff is big publications, which you need if you want to continue getting funded. Once you've got that big publication in your pocket, though, you'd better by coughing up that data set. Otherwise, everything you say is suspect. Kudos to the UK for getting this half-way right, but they'd better set some reasonable constraints on the timing of these required data releases, or face any number of frivolous lawsuits from conspiracy theorists and 'data analysis specialists' who don't want to do any of the hard work themselves...

    I don't care one whit what you think you're entitled to: if you're taking my money, you work for me.

    I don't care if you are a ditch digger or a particle physicist. Doing all the hard work and getting none of the credit sucks regardless of what we are discussing or who is paying the bills. So put up or shut up. Would you be willing to do all of the grunt work in your job, but take none of the recognition? Most people wouldn't - those are the kinds of jobs that make people go 'Postal'. If you aren't doing it (and even if you are), do you really expect anyone else to?

  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @11:08PM (#31935164) Journal

    If a lab has been spending my tax money for 10 years, I want my employees to give me my data right Goddamn now. .....if you're taking my money, you work for me.

    Just stop and think for a second about exactly what it is that us scientists are being paid to do. We are NOT being paid to collect data we are being paid to figure out how the world works and how to apply that knowledge for the betterment of mankind. The data is an end towards that means.

    Now, do you REALLY want us to spend a serious fraction of our time and money preparing and making available the raw data in a form which will probably be useless to you instead of analysing and coming up with results which you are far more likely to find useful? Is that REALLY the best way for us to serve the public interest?

    Examples of how this could go horribly wrong immediately come to mind: it could delay finding medical cures as researchers spend time releasing, instead of analysing data, companies could request the data and develop/patent drugs which YOU will then pay through the nose for, nutters will start horribly misrepresenting the data to "prove" their pet theory on warp drive etc. etc. How does any of this serve the public interest?

    If you want an even clearer example: taxpayers fund each country's intelligence agencies. So does this mean that since you own all the data every tax payer should be able to request to see it whenever they want? Obviously not because it would not be in YOUR best interest for such data to be public. While the reasons are different the conclusion is the same for scientific data. It may be your data but you are paying us to collect it, analyse it and come up with results which ultimately improve yours, and everyone else's, standard of living.

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @11:21PM (#31935270)

    some researchers might take the data, rehash it and publish it as their own, getting credit for it

    While making reference to the original data? That's called science.

    While not referencing the original data? That's called plagiarism, it's happened in science before and usually ends your career.

  • by Ctrl-Alt-Del (64339) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @11:44PM (#31935434) Homepage

    Unfortunately, Climategate proved that, at least in the field of climate research, "peer review" is worthless; Mann et al were actively conspiring to ensure that only "friendly" eyes carried out the reviews; anyone thought to be showing signs of scepticism were blacklisted, whether individuals or publications.

    To add to that, Glaciergate proved that much of what was claimed to be peer-reviewed was actually just regurgitated propaganda, often based on anecdotal evidence (reminisces of mountaineers published in a student rag? Puh-lease!)

    So, appeals to authority ("oh but all this research has been peer reviewed") just don't hold any more. Not until all the data and all the methods used to arrive at the results are made available, and the results can be independently confirmed or denied, can we say whether the research was worth the weight of mouldy notebooks it was archived on.

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @11:54PM (#31935482)

    The original objection was that if the data is hard to come by then it's unfair to academics who wouldn't get the credit after gathering the data.

    Of course simply generating massive amounts of data isn't science but it is a very very very important part of science.

    Is an academic who can write that well-written 10 page paper on the meaning of a crystal structure any less mentally capable because he didn't have the funds or facilities to gather the data he's looking at?

    If you open up the data then someone will undoubtedly notice things that completely escape the handful who got the data in the first place.

    The obvious solution is to give credit where credit is due and respect the ability of some people to perform good experiments.

    If economic systems were run the way academics operate then you'd end up with something like this:

    Nobody gets paid for raw lumber.
    Nobody gets paid for seasoned wood.
    Finished wooden items would be worth a fortune.

    And as a result anyone who wanted to make things from wood would have to own an area of forestry, logging equipment, a saw mill, a kiln and finally any tools for the final step.

  • by rjiy (1739274) on Thursday April 22, 2010 @12:22AM (#31935616)

    Now, do you REALLY want us to spend a serious fraction of our time and money preparing and making available the raw data..

    Nope. We expect you folks to spend some time thinking up a way so that you don't spend any time at all on "preparing" the supposedly "raw" data _and_ still make it available to the desirous public. Like you know putting up a file on a website with some footnotes. I hear universities have some websites.

  • by AJWM (19027) on Thursday April 22, 2010 @12:22AM (#31935622) Homepage

    Examining old data has one value and one value alone - verifying that the claim made for the data matches up with the data. [...] Access to raw data for any other reason is pointless.

    Hardly. One could analyse the raw data looking for something other than what the original researchers were looking for. There might even be some interesting signal buried in the data that original team, focusing on something else, disregarded as noise. Minute timing errors in, say, solar wind data returned from a spacecraft might turn up some oddity of orbital mechanics, for example. The researcher focusing on the sensor data rather than the timestamps will miss it, but it's all part of the raw data. How many biologists discarded moldy Petri dishes as ruined, without recording that, before Fleming thought to investigate why bacteria didn't grow near the mold?

  • by xtracto (837672) on Thursday April 22, 2010 @01:14AM (#31935810) Journal

    Simply generating massive amounts of data isn't considered science - figuring out what it means is. I say this as someone who is very good at generating data quickly, but not particularly good at interpreting it.

    Spot on. I have a PhD in Comp. Sci. (Multi-Agent Systems / Market Based Control). One of the things you learn (maybe in you Universitity degree courses or in your first paper presentation) is that data does not mean *anything*, what matters is the interpretation of such data.

    Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that programs used for the generation / manipulation of such data should also be free / scrutinable. Specially those developped during the research as they are also being paid by the tax payers money.

    In the field I am working now (Agent based computational economics) a lot of people do these so called agent-based simulations, then they write a nice paper about what their simulations showed and try to publish it. The problem is that they keep their code! and in that respect they are deffinitely removing a good chunk of the "methods" part of their research. It is absolutely impossible to duplicate that work without the code.

     

  • by the_womble (580291) on Thursday April 22, 2010 @04:27AM (#31936536) Homepage Journal

    I totally agree. If people just start looking at each others data instead of verifying it, a lot of mistakes (or fraudulent data ) will never be caught.

    On the other hand, a lot of errors in interpretation and statistical analysis will be caught.

  • by hazem (472289) on Thursday April 22, 2010 @07:07AM (#31937144) Journal

    Agreed. Asimov wrote in the forward of one of his robot books, "If knowledge poses a dangerous problem, I can't believe that ignorance is the solution." I think it applies aptly here.

    Sure, some people will accidentally misuse the data, and others (hopefully fewer) will intentionally misuse the data, but for many, having that data available has a great potential for increasing the understanding we all have.

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