The publications environment is changing: open science and data sharing are hot topics in medical communications (see our recent report from the ISMPP EU 2019 meeting). Despite this, awareness of a key determinant of the usefulness of data – data ‘FAIRness’ (whether data are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) – is lacking. As reported in a recent Nature Index article, institutions and funders including the European Commission, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the Wellcome Trust all support the FAIR principles, but only 15% of researchers across disciplines — 17% in medicine — are “familiar with FAIR principles” (according to Figshare’s State of Open Data 2018 report).
The FAIR Guiding Principles aim to facilitate data reuse by ensuring that data are:
- Findable: described with appropriate metadata, with a persistent identifier
- Accessible: retrievable using an open, free, universally implementable protocol
- Interoperable: described using formal, shared, broadly applicable language, and
- Reusable: ascribed a clear data usage license and described with rich metadata, including detailed provenance.
In Nature Index, Jon Brock, interviewing open science proponent Lambert Heller (Open Science Lab, TIB) and research data specialist Kate LeMay (Australian Research Data Commons), discussed the importance of the FAIR principles. In light of the principles’ low uptake among researchers, Brock’s interview emphasised the potential benefits of enhancing data reusability. As well as the clear potential advantage to public health of increasing the FAIRness of medical data, it can also be argued that the benefits of doing so extend to researchers themselves: improved reusability can boost researchers’ careers by demonstrating the impact of their research.
The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch to improve the ‘FAIRness’ of your data. You can use resources such as FAIRsharing and re3data.org to identify relevant data repositories, while the Creative Commons license tool will help in selecting an appropriate license. To find out more about the FAIR principles, you can also take a look at the Australian National Data Service’s webinar series.
Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell, DPhil from Aspire Scientific