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Science Bodies Reach Accord on Sharing of Scientific Data


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

Major international science organizations are calling for global endorsement of an accord to help assure open access to volumes of "big data" that increasingly are the basis of research and policymaking.

The broad agreement announced in December at the 2015 Science Forum meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, is an effort to increase the sharing of scientific data by scientists and policy makers around the world, said Milt Hakel, SIOP Fellow and president of the SIOP Foundation.

A member of the International Association of Applied Psychologists, he said IAAP was instrumental in connecting I-O and SIOP with the drafters of the agreement.

“The significance of this is that we are in on the ground floor and have made better known the skills of I-Os in collecting, understanding and interpreting data which will be much in demand. It will give I-O greater visibility around the world,” he said.

The accord includes a set of guiding principles on open access to big data, necessary to protect the scientific process and assure that developing countries can participate more fully in the global research enterprise.

Limits on access to big data knowledge, the framers warned, raise the risk that progress will slow in areas such as advanced health research, environmental protection, food production and development of smart cities.

The main drivers for doing this are the spread of technology and education and the advent of Big Data.

“The accord will help jump start scientific research in developed as well as developing countries and economies around the world,” Hakel said.

The digital revolution has created an unprecedented explosion in the data available for analysis by scientists, policymakers and others. Extremely large data sets, or ‘Big Data’, are the engine of this revolution; they help researchers to recognize subtle but powerful patterns in areas across the sciences, ranging from security to genetic research and human behavior.

“As the data revolution accelerates and the scientific potential of Big Data becomes clearer, it is timely that the major representative bodies of international science promote the importance of open data as means of maximizing creativity, maintaining rigor and ensuring that knowledge is a global public good rather than just a private good," said Geoffrey Boulton, president of CODATA, the International Council for Science’s  Committee on Data, and leader of the working group that developed the accord.

Hakel said there is room for improvement in data sharing, especially with emerging and developing countries.  He noted that much of I-O research is proprietary (assessments, copyrights, etc.) and there is a need to make clear that there are limits when research data should be openly shared. The accord acknowledged there are such issues and there will be more policy statements coming from the drafters as the accords move forward.

One issue that will need to be addressed is that many research projects are funded with public money, which means public sharing of the research, “That raises the question of what are the limits of public sharing and where does the invasion of privacy begin?” Hakel said. Ultimately, the accords will improve the sharing of data without undue impact upon personal privacy or national security, he added.

The full text of the Open Data in a Big Data World accord is available online at http://www.icsu.org/science-international/accord/open-data-in-a-big-data-world-long, and an executive summary is available at http://www.icsu.org/science-international/accord/open-data-in-a-big-data-world-short.