Open data and the future of science

GSB photo
Geoffrey Boulton, University of Edinburgh

Geoffrey Boulton:
«Open data and the future of science: why researchers should embrace openness and sharing»

Science has, is and will continue to change the world we live in, and the pace of change is quickening. It creates new possibilities that displace existing ways of doing things and identifies unintended consequences of human activity that require remedial action. New means of acquiring, storing and analyzing data have created an unprecedented explosion of digital data in recent decades. Coupled with ubiquitous means of instantaneous communication, they are fundamentally changing the nature of the scientific enterprise. They permit analysis of large and complex datasets to reveal relationships in phenomena that have hitherto been beyond our capacity to resolve and facilitate new modes of collaboration that increase the creativity of the scientific enterprise through interaction of many brains and many communities unbounded by institutional walls. They enable scientific concepts and the evidence that underlies them to be more effectively disseminated through society and in education, in ways that could change the social dynamics of science, making science a public enterprise rather than one conducted behind closed laboratory doors. But the data explosion also challenges the principle of “scientific self-correction” that requires both concept and evidence (data) to be concurrently published so that the logic of an argument and the integrity of data can be independently scrutinized and supported or refuted through attempts at replication. The absence or partial absence of the underpinning data, metadata or relevant computer code makes replication impossible, whether or not the published concept is correct.