‘Academics want to be famous!’
Not in the traditional sense perhaps – academia has more than its fair share of introverts – but to progress their career, or win Nobel Prizes, an academic’s name and work needs to be well known in the community. This is traditionally achieved by publishing novel research in high impact journals. However, evidence in the 2017 State of Open Data report continues to suggest that academics are happy to get their credit wherever they can.
For the second year running, more than 75% of researchers surveyed stated that they value a citation to their non-traditional research outputs (NTROs) as much as, if not more, than to a traditional output. This is consistent with indications that outputs other than publications and their impact will be rewarded at an equal level in funding decisions.
This year Figshare added citation information for every DOI that is minted across the system, whether it’s on an institutionally branded repository we support, or on figshare.com. What we are finding is that citations to these outputs are growing year on year. We’re also seeing a disproportionate amount of citations for code or software, an area that the traditional academic publishing systems have struggled to provide a solution that adequately distributes that much sought after credit. Being the first system to do this means that we are just scratching the surface on citation trends around NTROs.
The third big trend in the space has been the buzz around preprints. With Physics, Chemistry and Biology all having strong community-driven solutions, the concept of open access to all research outputs looks ever more likely. A rebrand of the institutional repository to the institutional preprint server may encourage compliance with open access mandates in a way that incentivizes the researchers. This all then becomes an infrastructure issue, one that is at least technically resolvable.
The State of Open Data is really The State of Open Academic Research Outputs, but that isn’t quite as catchy. Herein lies opportunities. The FAIR principles that have been lauded as the Shangri-La for all academic infrastructure can also be applied to open papers. All digital files, including preprints, or papers, should be thought of as ‘data’ in this respect.
Our internal discussions put the general state of affairs to be consistent with:
- data that is FAIR for humans
- data that is FA for machines
With all of the above considered, the Figshare team has come up with a set of guiding principles that can be adopted by publishers, funders and institutions as we work towards a FAIR-er future:
- Academic research outputs should be as open as possible, and as closed as necessary
- Academic research outputs should never be behind a paywall
- Academic research outputs should be human and machine readable/query-able
- Academic infrastructure should be interchangeable
- Academic researchers should never have to put the same information into multiple systems at the same institution
- Identifiers for everything
- The impact of research is independent of the type of output and where it is published
So where will the next 12 months take us?
It seems that a ‘happy’ mixture of carrots, sticks and education is needed to move academia forward, faster. Each stakeholder has their own responsibilities. Carrots provided by funders and infrastructure providers, sticks evolving with the growing number of mandates. Perhaps most critical is education, both getting the message to academics and providing curation expertise. Here is the biggest unknown – where will the education come from? I believe we’ll see moves from universities and publishers. The balance of how content is disseminated and who ultimately gets credit for all these new citations, be it academics, publishers or institutions will be decided by how much resource and effort can be thrown into the education vertical.
2017 has been good for bringing open data into the mainstream. Infrastructure and credit problems are on their way to being solved. I for one hope that in 2018 we can say the same about education at every level of the academic pyramid, with a global focus on making things FAIR becoming our moon landing – a noble, ambitious target to aim for.
Mark Hahnel is founder and CEO of Figshare, London. He is passionate about open science and the potential it has to revolutionise the research community. Figshare is looking to become the place where all academics make their research openly available, as well as producing a secure cloud based storage space for their outputs. By encouraging users to manage their research in a more organised manner, so that it can be easily made open to comply with funder mandates. Openly available research outputs will mean that academia can truly reproduce and build on top of the research of others.