Open data and Ecology
"Open science was present in good order at the recent ESA meeting in Minneapolis. Much of what was being discussed under that broadest of headings, open science, was the reproducibility of the science we do and one critical aspect of this is free, open access to data. Openly sharing data that underlie research publications is a rapidly-developing area of the scientific landscape faced today by scientists, not just ecologists; many journals now require data that support research papers be deposited under a permissive licence in approved repositories, such as Dryad or figshare, and a number of journals have been founded specifically to cater for the publication of data papers, including Ubiquity Press’ the Journal of Open Archeological Data, Nature Publishing Group’s forthcoming Scientific Data, and Wiley’s Geoscience Data Journal. Unfortunately, ecologists are more likely to be known for the iron-like grip with which the cling to their hard-won data. Into this landscape, Stephanie Hampton and colleagues (Hampton et al. 2013) published (it’s been online for a few months) a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment; Big data and the future of ecology Their paper has recently generated some discussion on the blog-o-sphere (eg Joern Fischer on Ideas for Sustainability and Ethan White’s Jabberwocky Ecology). Thankfully that discussion has been a friendly, courteous, and hence productive dialogue ... Their position is summed up in four key points (Hampton et al. 2013):  Data need to be organised, documented, and preserved for future generations. Data management plans should be something we take seriously and not let valuable data, however inconsequential it may at first seem, to languish in dusty filing cabinets or in proprietary formats from long-forgotten software and computer hard drives.  Share data, and importantly do this through open, accessible, inter-linked data repositories, either through host institutions or community specific repositories.  Collaborate; work with colleagues to collate and synthesise data (not surprising given the lead author’s affiliation; NCEAS) to address large-scale questions  Educate; instill in your students the data sharing ethos through education, training, local lab data management and sharing protocols. Do likewise with your colleagues and peers ... Each of these points is well made and I encourage you to read the paper for yourself for examples of good practice and justifications for improving the openness of ecologists in general. (If you don’t have access to Frontiers, Carly has a self-archived copy.) No doubt many ecologists will disagree with the position taken by Hampton and colleagues. One oft-mentioned objection to openly sharing data is that of misuse, either unintentional or malicious. A certain number of people will always do bad science and whether they do so using open data or not is largely irrelevant. I would imagine it to be relatively easy to take apart an argument grounded on inappropriate use of a particular data, especially if it is your data and you know your stuff. Should this be a barrier to openly sharing data? For me, no; the benefits of sharing outweigh the negatives many fold ..."