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PLOS drops: Is open data to blame?

Editor’s note: A December 2, 2014 Scholarly Kitchen article describes how the number of papers published by PLOS ONE dropped off earlier this year. Several possible causes are discussed. This particular explanation is explored in more detail—the open data requirement that went into effect at PLOS ONE on March 1st.

Source: Scholarly Kitchen

Source: Scholarly Kitchen

The mantra of the nascent open-data movement — that scientists should share online all data underlying their findings — sounds simple. But it can be tough to achieve in practice. An informal audit of one of the movement’s biggest proponents, the Public Library of Science (PLOS), shows that not everyone is complying with the publisher’s pioneering open-data mandate, and hints at the challenges that journals can face in enforcing open-data goals.

The idea that the progress of research will be accelerated if others can easily and freely build on data sets is gaining currency. Last week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, announced that it would demand open data of the researchers it funds.

But whereas some research communities, such as geneticists and crystallographers, have long-established norms of open data, most funders and publishers (including Nature), mindful of researcher autonomy, merely exhort scientists to make their data open. Many surveys have found that scientists are worried about being scooped on future projects, or argue that they have signed agreements not to share their data.

So it was a step-change when in March PLOS made it a requirement that authors who publish in its journals share online all the data necessary to reproduce their studies. It was not the first publisher to convert encouragement into a mandate, but it was the largest.

Click here to read more from this November 26, 2014 Nature article by Richard Van Noorden.

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