Data is cool… but how do I get it?

Open data is fun!

From wikipedia: Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open source, open content, and open access. The philosophy behind open data has been long established (for example in the Mertonian tradition of science), but the term “open data” itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as Data.gov.

Authors contributing to the Lancet recently published a paper called ‘Science as a public enterprise: the case for open data.’ The paper makes the case that although science has advanced and continues to advance quickly, there is a need to move away from seeing research data as property toward a view that sees data, analysis and results as more collaborative. This is somewhat at odds with traditional scientific practice were, ‘publish or perish,’ and limited sharing of data and syntax are the norm.

In the same issue of the Lancet the paper ‘Access to data in Industry Sponsored Trials‘ interviews authors about the type and their ‘level’ of access to the data to write industry sponsored academic papers. The paper suggests that authors were unclear about ‘level of access with many not having access to the raw data to conduct analyses. The authors also report that “a survey of US academic institutions found that trial agreements rarely ensured that authors had independent access to all trial data (Ref) Furthermore, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have stated that academic authors should be provided with summary data only (Ref).

Here in Canada a recent paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in an editorial entitled “The secret’s in: Open data is a foreign concept in Canada” suggests that Open Data policies are lagging behind. “While the United States and United Kingdom, among other nations, are locked in an “arms race to see who can be more open with their data,” Canada remains “totally outside that debate,” says open government access expert David Eaves.” Having worked with both UK and Canadian census data I can say that as a user this feels like the case. In the UK I simply went the government website and got the data. In Canada, to work with anything other than 20% sample aggregate census data you must get accreditation from a research data center, sign a contract with the government and only work in approved labs which do not allow access to internet. No results are allowed out of the lab unless approved by the research data center staff.

Last… listen to Networked Science on the CBC’s Spark about successes and failures in open making scientific data open. 

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