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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
investigators who generated those data may not have the resources or capabilities needed to make them available. This is frequently the case in small-scale research that does not have funding set aside for such functions or does not have a robust data management component in place. Alternatively, the data may be available, but the essential metadata needed to understand and use those data may be missing, making the data useless for anyone outside the immediate research team.
In general, researchers have a strong incentive to release the results of research. Their own recognition and advancement in their field generally depend on public dissemination of those results. In contrast, researchers have traditionally had few incentives to make publicly available the data they generate in the course of research. However, those data may have great value for other researchers, and making data publicly accessible can speed the advance of knowledge.
THE COSTS OF LIMITING ACCESS TO DATA
Barriers that restrict access to data, such as withholding data or delaying their release, can result in substantial costs.17 Once data have been gathered from an instrument or compiled from other sources, it is obviously more cost-effective to share the data than to reconstruct or recompile them. Furthermore, resources spent accessing data then are not available for other research uses.
Limitations on research data also can be barriers to innovation, which incurs costs in the broader society.18 In today’s economy, the creation of new goods and services often depends on access to research data. When access is withheld, economic innovation slows, reducing the returns to investments in research.
Limiting access to research data also hinders the kinds of interdisciplinary and international cooperation that has proven so productive in recent research. When data are restricted to a particular research team or field, other researchers not only cannot use the data but often cannot even ascertain the value of those data to their own research. Similarly, if students are unable to work with new research data, their education and training may be adversely affected.
Limitations on the accessibility of data invariably retard, and can even block, the process of verifying the accuracy of those data. As a result, the quality of the data could be lower than would be the case if they were freely available, again reducing the return on the investment in producing the data.
Finally, researchers who are deprived of access to data are disadvantaged in conducting research and possibly seeking support to do research. This
Uhlir and Schröder, op. cit., pp. OD42–OD43.
National Research Council. 1999. A Question of Balance: Private Rights and the Public Interestin Scientific and Technical Databases. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.