Research can often be a thankless job for the researcher - logically even more so if you make your data available to the community at large. Someone in the peer community will challenge it, bloggers will pick it apart, newspapers will misinterpret it and someone, somewhere, will find a way to use it to bolster their favorite political argument.
The benefits of open science to the science community receiving the data are obvious. They get results without effort or money or time. Is there any benefit to the researcher and, if not, why would anyone do it?
The authors of the study Sharing Detailed Research Data Is Associated with Increased Citation Rate say there may be more reward than altruism for hard-working scientists who give their research away.
They did an examination of 85 cancer microarray clinical trial publications. 48% percent of the trials with publicly available data accounted for 85% of the aggregate citations, which meant that a large part of the 69% increase in citations was due to its easy availability.
So what does that mean? That good knowledge got spread to more places by open access or that free knowledge is used more often by lazy researchers with an internet connection?
That's what we have to think about. I am writing this from a study that was published on an open access site, PLoS. I love PLoS. Everyone loves PLoS. Would this article have been written if I had to buy the study? No. For one thing, I work for free. You'd be surprised at how little a Science 2.0 site pays, even with a few hundred thousand readers per month, when you split all of the money with other writers or give it to charity.
So I am willing to spend my time but giving money to a corporation for research data is too much to ask. This is a common theme among the writers here. Doing a lot of work so the NY Times can sell newspapers isn't all that great a proposition. Doing a lot of work so that readers out there can get ideology-free science and make better decisions that will impact policy is not a bad deal.
Genetics are the clear area where open access is good for everyone. You can get a horse genome from public databases and even Congress backed directing the NIH to provide free public online access to agency-funded research within one year of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Those both sound like pretty good things.
Without open access there would be a lot of duplication and a lot of money spent on research already done. That kind of R&D expenditure may work at a company like Intel with a product that will be in stores a year from now but research won't have a 'pay off' sometimes for many years and it may never be a monetary one.
That's lovely philosophy but we're in the science business and there is also data that says there's more than feeling good to be gained. From the paper:
A currency of value to many investigators is the number of times their publications are cited. Although limited as a proxy for the scientific contribution of a paper, citation counts are often used in research funding and promotion decisions and have even been assigned a salary-increase dollar value. Boosting citation rate is thus is a potentially important motivator for publication authors.
So peer recognition in the way of citations does have some material benefit. And open access feeds itself. If scientists know having open data leads to more citations and therefore more of that money stuff some of us like, it leads to more open access articles which leads to more citations. You get the idea.
Why then were less than half of the papers under examination open access? For the reasons I listed in paragraph one. Research is a tough job and when it's going out to a limited peer group, the trepidation about mistakes can be high. When it's going out to the entire world, it can be even more daunting.
Still, that's the world most of us live in. Competition and scrutiny and someone trying to cut us off at the knees, not because what we do is bad, but because it's easier for someone else to do low quality work if they keep the field mediocre. It's not a bad thing for researchers to endure the world billions of others also do.
At the end of the day, less than 50% of the data sets in this study had almost 90% of the citations. Open science may not have taken over the world yet but 50% of the studies won't be happy with 10% of the leftover citations for long.
Likewise, we know there are people out there who don't read this site yet because they don't want good science with no agenda and no filters. Actually, if you know someone who isn't reading this site even after all those reasons, please forward a copy of this article.
It's the altruistic thing to do.
Source: Sharing Detailed Research Data Is Associated with Increased Citation Rate, Heather A. Piwowar, Roger S. Day, Douglas B. Fridsma, doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000308