Tag Archives: research

Where are we now? Cambridge theses deposits one year in

As the nights draw in and the academic year 2018/19 begins, we are preparing to enter our second year of compulsory e-theses deposits. Our university repository, Apollo, is close to holding 6000 digital PhD theses and it is the intention of the University that this valuable research asset continues to grow into the future. The Apollo repository will play a large part in making this happen. Until recently only hardbound copies of theses were collected and catalogued by the University Library. Users could read theses on-site in Cambridge or order a digitisation of the thesis, but the introduction of e-thesis deposit to Apollo has meant that University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than ever before. It’s been an incredibly busy year and we have made some great steps forward in our management of theses in Cambridge.

e-theses at Cambridge – the background

The e-theses deposit story at Cambridge started in October 2016, when the Office of Scholarly Communication upgraded Apollo to allow the deposit of theses and began a digital thesis pilot for the academic year 2016/17. 11 departments in the University participated in the pilot, asking their PhD students to deposit an e-thesis alongside a hardcopy thesis. Theses deposited in Apollo during the pilot could either be made open access on request of the author or were treated as historical theses had been up until that point, whereby hardbound copies were held in the University Library and requestors could sign a declaration stating they wish to consult a thesis for private study or non-commercial research. Following the success of the pilot, the Board of Graduate Studies, at its meeting on 4 July 2017, made the decision that from 1 October 2017 all PhD students would be required to deposit both a hard copy and an electronic copy of their thesis to the University Library.

What we learnt during the academic year 2017/18

The experience of depositing theses during the pilot had highlighted some issues that needed addressing. We had to make decisions on how to deal with third party copyright, sensitive material, library copy and supply rules, and the alignment of access levels for hardbound and electronic theses. In response to this, we decided that we should think through each of the different ways in which a thesis could be deposited in the repository, and consider the range of contentious material that could be contained within a thesis.

How do theses enter the repository?

Whilst students that are depositing in order to graduate do this directly, we also have the capacity to scan theses on request here in the library, and these scanned theses are subsequently deposited in Apollo. In addition to this, we led a drive to digitise University of Cambridge theses held by the British Library on microfilm and gave alumni the option to digitise their thesis and make it open access at no cost to them.

British Library theses

This year the OSC has made a bulk deposit of theses scanned by the British Library, which significantly augments the number of theses stored in the repository. In the culmination of a two-year project, nearly 1300 additional Cambridge PhD theses are now available on request in the Apollo repository.

Prior to being made available in the repository, these Cambridge theses were held on microfilm at the British Library. They date from the 1960s through to 2008, when digitisation took over from microfilm as a means of document storage. The British Library holds 14,000 Cambridge PhD theses on microfilm; in 2016 they embarked on a project with the OSC to digitise ten percent of the collection at low cost – read more about this in an earlier post, Choosing from a cornucopia: a digitisation project.

You can explore the collection in Apollo: Historical Digital Theses: British Library collection.  The theses are under controlled access, which means they are available on request for non-commercial research purposes, subject to a £15 admin fee.

Establishing access levels

We established that the level of access we could allow to the thesis could be determined by the route a thesis entered the repository, its content, or in some cases the author’s wish to publish. To address all of the potential issues, we decided to define a set of access levels which would determine what we, as managers of the repository, were able to do with a thesis and the way in which it could be accessed by a requestor.

The access levels were put in action in spring 2018 and this was followed by a survey of Degree Committees, conducted by the e-theses working group consisting of members of the University Library and Student Registry. The survey asked for feedback on the suitability of the access levels for research outputs for all departments in the University; the outcome confirmed that the access levels were working and covered the options well, although a few tweaks were needed. In light of the feedback, a set of recommendations was put to the Board of Graduate Studies by the e-theses working group, and these recommendations were considered and accepted at their meeting on 3 July 2018, ready to be put in place for the 2017/18 academic year.

eSales for theses under controlled access

At the same time as we were establishing our access levels, we were also working on devising an eSales process to facilitate the supply of theses under controlled access. Controlled access replicates the way that historical, hardbound theses were managed in the library, with the addition of an electronic version of the thesis being held in the repository, and follows the library copy and supply rules for unpublished works under copyright law. A thesis scanned by the library would be deposited under controlled access so it remains unpublished, but this access level is also available to students depositing their thesis directly. The eSales process we devised went live in July 2018 and this meant a large number of theses held in the repository were made more accessible, including those digitised by the British Library. As of 18 October, we have supplied 14 theses via the eSales route and the requests keep coming in at a steady pace.

Looking forward to the 2018/19 academic year

As we begin the 2018/19 academic year, our theses management is looking in good shape but we will continue to improve and refine our internal and external services. In consultation with the University’s Student Registry we are making the final changes to our deposit forms, access levels and communications and we endeavour to make this academic year the smoothest yet for e-theses management. University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than they have ever been. The collection will grow as more students deposit each year, and the valuable research of PhD students will continue to be disseminated.

Published 25 October 2018
Written by Zoë Walker-Fagg
Creative Commons License

‘Be nice to each other’ – the second Researcher to Reader conference

Aaaaaaaaaaargh! was Mark Carden’s summary of the second annual Researcher to Reader conference, along with a plea that the different players show respect to one another. My take home messages were slightly different:

  • Publishers should embrace values of researchers & librarians and become more open, collaborative, experimental and disinterested.
  • Academic leaders and institutions should do their bit in combating the metrics focus.
  • Big Deals don’t save libraries money, what helps them is the ability to cancel journals.
  • The green OA = subscription cancellations is only viable in a utopian, almost fully green world.
  • There are serious issues in the supply chain of getting books to readers.
  • And copyright arrangements in academia do not help scholarship or protect authors*.

The programme for the conference included a mix of presentations, debates and workshops. The Twitter hashtag is #r2rconf.

As is inevitable in the current climate, particularly at a conference where there were quite a few Americans, the shadow of Trump was cast over the proceedings. There was much mention of the political upheaval and the place research and science has in this.

[*please see Kent Anderson’s comment at the bottom of this blog]

In the publishing corner

Time for publishers to raise to the challenge

The conference opened with an impassioned speech by Mark Allin, the President and CEO of John Wiley & Sons, who started with the statement this was “not a time for retreat, but a time for outreach and collaboration and to be bold”.

The talk was not what was expected from a large commercial publisher. Allin asked: “How can publishers act as advocates for truth and knowledge in the current political climate?” He mentioned that Proquest has launched a displaced researchers programme in reaction to world events, saying, “it’s a start but we can play a bigger role”.

Allin asked what publishers can do to ensure research is being accessed. Referencing “The content trap” by Bharat Anand, Allin said “We won’t as a media industry survive as a media content and putting it in a bottle and controlling its distribution. We will only succeed if we connect the users. So we need to re-engineer the workflows making them seamless, frictionless. “We should be making sure that … we are offering access to all those who want it.”

Allin raised the issue of access, noting that ResearchGate has more usage than any single publisher. He made the point that “customers don’t care if it is the version of record, and don’t care about our arcane copyright laws”. This is why people use SciHub, it is ease of access. He said publishers should not give up protecting copyright but must realise its limitations and provide easy access.

Researchers are the centre of gravity – we need to help them spend more time researching and less time publishing, he says. There is a lesson here, he noted, suppliers should use “the divine discontent of the customer as their north star”. He used the example of Amazon to suggest people working in scholarly communication need to use technology much better to connect up. “We need to experiment more, do more, fail more, be more interconnected” he said, where “publishing needs open source and open standards” which are required for transformational impact on scholarly publishing – “the Uber equivalent”.

His suggestion for addressing the challenges of these sharing platforms is to “try and make your experience better than downloading from a pirate site”, and that this would be a better response than taking the legal route and issuing takedown notices.  He asked: “Should we give up? No, but we need to recognise there are limits. We need to do more to enable access.”

Allin called the situation, saying publishing may have gone online but how much has the internet really changed scholarly communication practices? The page is still a unit of publishing, even in digital workflows. It shouldn’t be, we should have a ‘digital first’ workflow. The question isn’t ‘what should the workflow look like?’, but ‘why hasn’t it improved?’, he said, noting that innovation is always slowed by social norms not technology. Publishers should embrace values of researchers & librarians and become more open, collaborative, experimental and disinterested.

So what do publishers do?

Publishers “provide quality and stability”, according to Kent Anderson, speaking on the second day (no relation to Rick Anderson) in his presentation about ‘how to cook up better results in communicating research’. Anderson is the CEO of Redlink, a company that provides publishers and libraries with analytic and usage information. He is also the founder of the blog The Scholarly Kitchen.

Anderson made the argument that “publishing is more than pushing a button”, by expanding on his blog on ‘96 things publishers do’. This talk differed from Allin’s because it focused on the contribution of publishers.

Anderson talked about the peer review process, noting that rejections help academics because usually they are about mismatch. He said that articles do better in the second journal they’re submitted to.

During a discussion about submission fees, Anderson noted that these “can cover the costs of peer review of rejected papers but authors hate them because they see peer review as free”. His comment that a $250 journal submission charge with one journal is justified by the fact that the target market (orthopaedic surgeons) ‘are rich’ received (rather unsurprisingly) some response from the audience via Twitter.

Anderson also made the accusation that open access publishers take lower quality articles when money gets tight. This did cause something of a backlash on the Twitter discussion with a request for a citation for this statement, a request for examples of publishers lowering standards to bring in more APC income with the exception of scam publishers. [ADDENDUM: Kent Anderson below says that this was not an ‘accusation’ but an ‘observation’. The Twitter challenge for ‘citation please?’ holds.]

There were a couple of good points made by Anderson. He argued that one of the value adds that publishers do is training editors. This is supported by a small survey we undertook with the research community at Cambridge last year which revealed that 30% of the editors who responded felt they needed more training.

The library corner

The green threat

There is good reason to expect that green OA will make people and libraries cancel their subscriptions, at least it will in the utopian future described by Rick Anderson (no relation to Kent Anderson), Associate Dean of University of Utah in his talk “The Forbidden Forecast, Thinking about open access and library subscriptions”.

Anderson started by asking why, if we’re in a library funding crisis, aren’t we seeing sustained levels of unsubscription? He then explained that Big Deals don’t save libraries money. They lower the cost per article, but this is a value measure, not a cost measure. What the Big Deal did was make cancellations more difficult. Most libraries have cancelled every journal that they can without Faculty ‘burning down the library’, to preserve the Big Deal. This explains the persistence of subscriptions over time. The library is forced to redirect money away from other resources (books) and into serials budget. The reason we can get away with this is because books are not used much.

The wolf seems to be well and truly upon us. There have been lots of cancellations and reduction of library budgets in the USA (a claim supported by a long list of examples). The number of cancellations grows as the money being siphoned off book budgets runs out.

Anderson noted that the emergence of new gold OA journals doesn’t help libraries, this does nothing to relieve the journal emergency. They just add to the list of costs because it is a unique set of content. What does help libraries is the ability to cancel journals. Professor Syun Tutiya, Librarian Emeritus at Chiba University in a separate session noted that if Japan were to flip from a fully subscription model to APCs it would be about the same cost, so that would solve the problem.

Anderson said that there is an argument that “there is no evidence that green OA cancels journals” (I should note that I am well and truly in this camp, see my argument). Anderson’s argument that this is saying the future hasn’t happened yet. The implicit argument here is that because green OA has not caused cancellations so far means it won’t do it into the future.

Library money is taxpayers’ money – it is not always going to flow. There is much greater scrutiny of journal big deals as budgets shrink.

Anderson argued that green open access provides inconsistent and delayed access to copies which aren’t always the version of record, and this has protected subscriptions. He noted that Green OA is dependent on subscription journals, which is “ironic given that it also undermines them”. You can’t make something completely & freely available without undermining the commercial model for that thing, Anderson argued.

So, Anderson said, given green OA exists and has for years, and has not had any impact on subscriptions, what would need to happen for this to occur? Anderson then described two subscription scenarios. The low cancellation scenario (which is the current situation) where green open access is provided sporadically and unreliably. In this situation, access is delayed by a year or so, and the versions available for free are somewhat inferior.

The high cancellation scenario is where there is high uptake of green OA because there are funder requirements and the version is close to the final one. Anderson argued that the “OA advocates” prefer this scenario and they “have not thought through the process”. If the cost is low enough of finding which journals have OA versions and the free versions are good enough, he said, subscriptions will be cancelled. The black and white version of Anderson’s future is: “If green OA works then subscriptions fail, and the reverse is true”.

Not surprisingly I disagreed with Anderson’s argument, based on several points. To start, there would need to have a certain percentage of the work available before a subscription could be cancelled. Professor Syun Tutiya, Librarian Emeritus at Chiba University noted in a different discussion that in Japan only 6.9% of material is available Green OA in repositories and argued that institutional repositories are good for lots of things but not OA. Certainly in the UK, with the strongest open access policies in the world, we are not capturing anything like the full output. And the UK is itself only 6% of the research output for the world, so we are certainly a very long way away from this scenario.

In addition, according to work undertaken by Michael Jubb in 2015 – most of the green Open Access material is available in places other than institutional repositories, such as ResearchGate and SciHub. Do librarians really feel comfortable cancelling subscriptions on the basis of something being available in a proprietary or illegal format?

The researcher perspective

Stephen Curry, Professor of Structural Biology, Imperial College London, spoke about “Zen and the Art of Research Assessment”. He started by asking why people become researchers and gave several reasons: to understand the world, change the world, earn a living and be remembered. He then asked how they do it. The answer is to publish in high impact journals and bring in grant money. But this means it is easy to lose sight of the original motivations, which are easier to achieve if we are in an open world.

In discussing the report published in 2015, which looked into the assessment of research, “The Metric Tide“, Curry noted that metrics & league tables aren’t without value. They do help to rank football teams, for example. But university league tables are less useful because they aggregate many things so are too crude, even though they incorporate valuable information.

Are we as smart as we think we are, he asked, if we subject ourselves to such crude metrics of achievement? The limitations of research metrics have been talked about a lot but they need to be better known. Often they are too precise. For example was Caltech really better than University of Oxford last year but worse this year?

But numbers can be seductive. Researchers want to focus on research without pressure from metrics, however many Early Career Researchers and PhD students are increasingly fretting about publications hierarchy. Curry asked “On your death bed will you be worrying about your H-Index?”

There is a greater pressure to publish rather than pressure to do good science. We should all take responsibility to change this culture. Assessing research based on outputs is creating perverse incentives. It’s the content of each paper that matters, not the name of the journal.

In terms of solutions, Curry suggested it would be better to put higher education institutions in 5% brackets rather than ranking them 1-n in the league tables. Curry calls for academic leaders and institutions to do their bit in combating the metrics focus. He also called for much wider adoption of the Declaration On Research Assessment (known as DORA). Curry’s own institution, Imperial College London, has done so recently.

Curry argued that ‘indicators’ would be a more appropriate term than ‘metrics’ in research assessment because we’re looking at proxies. The term metrics imply you know what you are measuring. Certainly metrics can inform but they cannot replace judgement. Users and providers must be transparent.

Another solution is preprints, which shift attention from container to content because readers use the abstract not the journal name to decide which papers to read. Note that this idea is starting to become more mainstream with the research by the NIH towards the end of last year “Including Preprints and Interim Research Products in NIH Applications and Reports

Copyright discussion

I sat on a panel to discuss copyright with a funder – Mark Thorley, Head of Science Information, Natural Environment Research Council , a lawyer – Alexander Ross, Partner, Wiggin LLP and a publisher – Dr Robert Harington,  Associate Executive Director, American Mathematical Society.

My argument** was that selling or giving the copyright to a third party with a purely commercial interest and that did not contribute to the creation of the work does not protect originators. That was the case in the Kookaburra song example. It is also the case in academic publishing. The copyright transfer form/publisher agreement that authors sign usually mean that the authors retain their moral rights to be named as the authors of the work, but they sign away rights to make any money out of them.

I argued that publishers don’t need to hold the copyright to ensure commercial viability. They just need first exclusive publishing rights. We really need to sit down and look at how copyright is being used in the academic sphere – who does it protect? Not the originators of the work.

Judging by the mood in the room, the debate could have gone on for considerably longer. There is still a lot of meat on that bone. (**See the end of this blog for details of my argument).

The intermediary corner

The problem of getting books to readers

There are serious issues in the supply chain of getting books to readers, according to Dr Michael Jubb, Independent Consultant and Richard Fisher from Something Understood Scholarly Communication.

The problems are multi-pronged. For a start, discoverability of books is “disastrous” due to completely different metadata standards in the supply chain. ONIX is used for retail trade and MARC is standard for libraries, Neither has detailed information for authors, information about the contents of chapters, sections etc, or information about reviews and comments.

There are also a multitude of channels for getting books to libraries. There has been involvement in the past few years of several different kinds of intermediaries – metadata suppliers, sales agents, wholesalers, aggregators, distributors etc – who are holding digital versions of books that can be supplied through the different type of book platforms. Libraries have some titles on multiple platforms but others only available on one platform.

There are also huge challenges around discoverability and the e-commerce systems, which is “too bitty”. The most important change that has happened in books has been Amazon, however publisher e-commerce “has a long way to go before it is anything like as good as Amazon”.

Fisher also reminded the group that there are far more books published each year than there are journals – it’s a more complex world. He noted that about 215 [NOTE: amended from original 250 in response to Richard Fisher’s comment below] different imprints were used by British historians in the last REF. Many of these publishers are very small with very small margins.

Jubb and Fisher both emphasised readers’ strong preference for print, which implies that much more work needed on ebook user experience. There are ‘huge tensions’ between reader preference (print) and the drive for e-book acquisition models at libraries.

The situation is probably best summed up in the statement that “no-one in the industry has a good handle on what works best”.

Providing efficient access management

Current access control is not functional in the world we live in today. If you ask users to jump through hoops to get access off campus then your whole system defeats its purpose. That was the central argument of Tasha Mellins-Cohen, the Director of Product Development, HighWire Press when she spoke about the need to improve access control.

Mellins-Cohen started with the comment “You have one identity but lots of identifiers”, and noted if you have multiple institutional affiliations this causes problems. She described the process needed for giving access to an article from a library in terms of authentication – which, as an aside, clearly shows why researchers often prefer to use Sci Hub.

She described an initiative called CASA – Campus Activated Subscriber-Access which records devices that have access on campus through authenticated IP ranges and then allows access off campus on the same device without using a proxy. This is designed to use more modern authentication. There will be “more information coming out about CASA in the next few months”.

Mellins-Cohen noted that tagging something as ‘free’ in the metadata improves Google indexing – publishers need to do more of this at article level. This comment was responded with a call out to publishers to make the information about sharing more accessible to authors through How Can I Share It?

Mellins-Cohen expressed some concern that some of the ideas coming out of RA21 Resource Access in 21st Century, an STM project to explore alternatives to IP authentication, will raise barriers to access for researchers.

Summary

It is always interesting to have the mix of publishers, intermediaries, librarians and others in the scholarly communication supply chain together at a conference such as this. It is rare to have the conversations between different stakeholders across the divide. In his summary of the event, Mark Carden noted the tension in the scholarly communication world, saying that we do need a lively debate but also need to show respect for one another.

So while the keynote started promisingly, and said all the things we would like to hear from the publishing industry, there is still the reality that we are not there yet.  And this underlines the whole problem. This interweb thingy didn’t happen last week. What has actually happened  to update the publishing industry in the last 20 years? Very little it seems. However it is not all bad news. Things to watch out for in the near future include plans for micro-payments for individual access to articles, according to Mark Allin, and the highly promising Campus Activated Subscriber-Access system.

Danny Kingsley attended the Researcher to Reader conference thanks to the support of the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Published 27 February 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

Copyright case study

In my presentation, I spoke about the children’s campfire song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” which was written by Melbourne schoolteacher Marion Sinclair in 1932 and first aired in public two years later as part of a Girl Guides jamboree in Frankston. Sinclair had to get prompted to go to APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) to register the song. That was in 1975, the song had already been around for 40 years but she never expressed any great interest in any propriety to the song.

In 1981 the Men at Work song “Down Under” made No. 1 in Australia. The song then topped the UK, Canada, Ireland, Denmark and New Zealand charts in 1982 and hit No.1 in the US in January 1983. It sold two million copies in the US alone.  When Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983 Down Under was played constantly. It seems extremely unlikely that Marion Sinclair did not hear this song. (At the conference, three people self-identified as never having heard the song when a sample of the song was played.)

Marion Sinclair died in 1988, the song went to her estate and Norman Lurie, managing director of Larrikin Music Publishing, bought the publishing rights from her estate in 1990 for just $6100. He started tracking down all the chart music that had been printed all over the world, because Kookaburra had been used in books for people learning flute and recorder.

In 2007 TV show Spicks and Specks had a children’s music themed episode where the group were played “Down Under” and asked which Australian nursery rhyme the flute riff was based on. Eventually they picked Kookaburra, all apparently genuinely surprised when the link between the songs was pointed out. There is a comparison between the music pieces.

Two years later Larrikin Music filed a lawsuit, initially wanting 60% of Down Under’s profits. In February 2010, Men at Work appealed, and eventually lost. The judge ordered Men at Work’s recording company, EMI Songs Australia, and songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert to pay 5% of royalties earned from the song since 2002 and from its future earnings.

In the end, Larrikin won around $100,000, although legal fees on both sides have been estimated to be upwards $4.5 million, with royalties for the song frozen during the case.

Gregory Ham was the flautist in the band who played the riff. He did not write Down Under, and was devastated by the high profile court case and his role in proceedings. He reportedly fell back into alcohol abuse and was quoted as saying: “I’m terribly disappointed that’s the way I’m going to be remembered — for copying something.” Ham died of a heart attack in April 2012 in his Carlton North home, aged 58, with friends saying the lawsuit was haunting him.

This case, I argued, exemplifies everything that is wrong with copyright.

Forget compliance. Consider the bigger RDM picture

The Office of Scholarly Communication sent Dr Marta Teperek, our Research Data Facility Manager to the  International Digital Curation Conference held in in Amsterdam on 22-25 February 2016. This is her report from the event.

Fantastic! This was my first IDCC meeting and already I can’t wait for next year. There was not only amazing content in high quality workshops and conference papers, but also a great opportunity to network with data professionals from across the globe. And it was so refreshing to set aside our UK problem of compliance with data sharing policies, to instead really focus on the bigger picture: why it is so important to manage and share research data and how to do it best.

Three useful workshops

The first day started really intensely – the plan was for one full day or two half-day workshops, but I managed to squeeze in three workshops in one day.

Context is key when it comes to data sharing

The morning workshop was entitled “A Context-driven Approach to Data Curation for Reuse” by Ixchel Faniel (OCLC), Elizabeth Yakel (University of Michigan), Kathleen Fear (University of Rochester) and Eric Kansa (Open Context). We were split into small groups and asked to decide what was the most important information about datasets from the re-user’s point of view. Would the re-user care about the objects themselves? Would s/he want to get hints about how to use the data?

We all had difficulties in arranging the necessary information in order of usefulness. Subsequently, we were asked to re-order the information according to the importance from the point of view of repository managers. And the take-home message was that for all of the groups the information about datasets required by the re-user was the not same as that required from the repository.

In addition, the presenters provided discipline-specific context based on interviews with researchers – depending on the research discipline, different information about datasets was considered the most important. For example, for zoologists, the information about specimen was very important, but it was of negligible importance to social scientists. So context is crucial for the collection of appropriate metadata information. Insufficient contextual information makes data not useful.

So what can institutional repositories do to address these issues? If research carried out within a given institution only covers certain disciplines, then institutional repositories could relatively easily contextualise metadata information being collected and presented for discovery. However, repositories hosting research from many different disciplines will find this much more difficult to address. For example, Cambridge repository has to host research spanning across particle physics, engineering, economics, archaeology, zoology, clinical medicine and many, many others. This makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to contextualise the metadata.

It is not surprising that information most important from the repository’s point of view is different that the most important information required by the data re-users. In order to ensure that research data can be effectively shared and preserved in long term, repositories need to collect certain amount of administrative metadata: who deposited the data, what are the file formats, what are the data access conditions etc. However, repositories should collect as much administrative metadata as possible in an automated way. For example, if the user logs in to deposit data, all the relevant information about the user should be automatically harvested by feeds from human resources systems.

EUDAT – Pan-European infrastructure for research data

The next workshop was about EUDAT – the collaborative Pan-European infrastructure providing research data services, training and consultancy for researchers. EUDAT is an impressive project funded by Horizon2020 grant and it offers five different types of services to researchers:

  • B2DROP – a secure and trusted data exchange service to keep research data synchronized, up-to-date and easy to exchange with other researchers;
  • B2SHARE – service for storing and sharing small-scale research data from diverse contexts;
  • B2SAFE – service to safely store research data by replicating it and depositing at multiple trusted repositories (additional data backups);
  • B2STAGE – service to transfer datasets between EUDAT storage resources and high-performance computing (HPC) workspaces;
  • B2FIND – discovery service harvesting metadata from research data collections from EUDAT data centres and other repositories.

The project has a wide range of services on offer and is currently looking for institutions to pilot these services with. I personally think these are services which (if successfully implemented) would be of a great value to Pan-European research community.

However, I have two reservations about the project:

  • Researchers are being encouraged to use EUDAT’s platforms to collaborate on their research projects and to share their research data. However, the funding for the project runs out in 2018. EUDAT team is now investigating options to ensure the sustainability and future funding for the project, but what will happen to researchers’ data if the funding is not secured?
  • Perhaps if the funding is limited it would be more useful to focus the offering on the most useful services, which are not provided elsewhere. For example, another EC-funded project, Zenodo, already offers a user-friendly repository for research data; Open Science Framework offers a platform for collaboration and easy exchange of research data. Perhaps EUDAT could initially focus on developing services which are not provided elsewhere. For example, having a Pan-Europe service harvesting metadata from various data repositories and enabling data discovery is clearly much needed and would be extremely useful to have.

Jisc Shared RDM Services for UK institutions

I then attended the second half of Jisc workshop on shared Research Data Management services for UK institutions. The University of York and the University of Cambridge are two of 13 pilot institutions participating in the pilot. Jenny Mitcham from York and I gave presentations on our institutional perspectives on the pilot project: where we are at the moment and what are our key expectations from the pilot. Jenny gave an overview of an impressive work by her and her colleagues on addressing data preservation gaps at the University of York. Data preservation was one of the areas in which Cambridge hopes to get help from the Jisc RDM shared services project. Additionally, as we described before, Cambridge would greatly benefit from solutions for big data and for personal/sensitive data. My presentation from the session is available here.

Presentations were followed by breakout group discussions. Participants were asked to identify the areas of priorities for the Jisc RDM pilot. The top priority identified by all the groups seemed to be solutions for personal/sensitive data and for effective data access management. This was very interesting to me as at similar workshops held by Jisc in the UK, breakout groups prioritised interoperability with their existing institutional systems and cost-effectiveness. This could be one of the unforeseen effects of strict funders’ research data policies in the UK, which required institutions to provide local repositories to share research data.

As a result of these policies, many institutions were tasked with creating institutional data repositories from scratch in a very short time. Most of the UK universities now have institutional repositories which allow research data to be uploaded and shared. However, very few universities have their repositories well integrated with other institutional systems. Not having the policy pressure in non-UK countries perhaps allowed institutions to think more strategically about developing their RDM service provisions and ensure that developed services are well embedded within the existing institutional infrastructure.

Conference papers and posters

The two following days were full of excellent talks. My main problem was which sessions to attend: talking with other attendees I am aware that the papers presented at parallel sessions were also extremely useful. If the budget allows, I certainly think that it would be useful for more participants from each institution to attend the meeting to cover more parallel sessions.

Below are my main reflections from keynote talks.

Barend Mons – Open Science as a Social Machine

This was a truly inspirational talk, raising a lot of thought-provoking discussions. Barend started from a reflection that more and more brilliant brains, with more and more powerful computers and with billions of smartphones, created a single, interconnected social super-machine. This machine generates data – vast amount of data – which is difficult to comprehend and work with, unless proper tools are used.

Barend mentioned that with the current speed of new knowledge being generated and papers being published, it is simply impossible for human brains to assimilate the constantly expanding amount of new knowledge. Brilliant brains need powerful computers to process the growing amount of information. But in order for science to be accessible to computers, we need to move away from pdfs. Our research needs to be machine-readable. And perhaps if publishers do not want to support machine-readability, we need to move away from the current publishing model.

Barend also stressed that if data is to be useful and correctly interpretable, it needs to be accessible not only to machines, but also to humans, and that effort is needed to make data well described. Barend said that research data without proper metadata description is useless (if not harmful). And how to make research data meaningful? Barend proposed a very compelling solution: no more research grants should be awarded without 5% of money dedicated for data stewardship.

I could not agree more with everything that Barend said. I hope that research funders will also support Barend’s statement.

Andrew Sallans – nudging people to improve their RDM practice

Andrew started his talk from a reflection that in order to improve our researchers’ RDM practice we need to do better than talking about compliance and about making data open. How a researcher is supposed to make data accessible, if the data was not properly managed in the first place? The Open Science Framework has been created with three mission statements:

  • Technology to enable change;
  • Training to enact change;
  • Incentives to embrace change.

So what is the Open Science Framework (OSF)? It is an open source platform to support researchers during the entire research lifecycle: from the start of the project, through data creation, editing and sharing with collaborators and concluding with data publication. What I find the most compelling about the OSF is that is allows one to easily connect various storage platforms and places where researchers collaborate on their data in one place: researchers can easily plug their resources stored on Dropbox, Googledrive, GitHub and many others.

To incentivise behavioural change among researchers, the OSF team came up with two other initiatives:

Personally, I couldn’t agree more with Andrew that enabling good data management practice should be the starting point. We can’t expect researchers to share their research data if we have not helped them with providing tools and support for good data management. However, I am not so sure about the idea of cash rewards.

In the end researchers become researchers because they want to share the outcomes of their research with the community. This is the principle behind academic research – the only way of moving ideas forward is to exchange findings with colleagues. Do researchers need to be paid extra to do the right thing? I personally do not think so and I believe that whoever decides to pursue an academic career is prepared to share. And it is our task to make data management and sharing as easy as possible, and the use of OSF will certainly be of a great aid for the community.

Susan Halford – the challenge of big data and social research

The last keynote was from Susan Halford. Susan’s talk was again very inspirational and thought-provoking. She talked about the growing excitement around big data and how trendy it has become; almost being perceived as a solution to every problem. However, Susan also pointed out the problems with big data. Simply increasing the computational power and not fully comprehending the questions and the methodology used can lead to serious misinterpretations of results. Susan concluded that when doing big data research one has to be extremely careful about choosing proper methodology for data analysis, reflecting on both the type of data being collected, as well as (inter)disciplinary norms.

Again – I could not agree more. Asking the right question and choosing the right methodology are key to make the right conclusions. But are these problems new to big data research? I personally think that we are all quite familiar with these challenges. Questions about the right experimental design and the right methodology have been known to humankind since scientific method is used.

Researchers always needed to design studies carefully before commencing to do the experiments: what will be the methodology, what are the necessary controls, what should be the sample size, what needs to happen for the study to be conclusive? To me this is not a problem of big data, to me this is a problem that needs to be addressed by every researcher from the very start of the project, regardless of the amount of data the project generates or analyses.

Birds of a Feather discussions

I had not experienced Birds of a Feather Discussions (BoF) before at a conference and I am absolutely amazed by the idea. Before the conference started the attendees were invited to propose ideas for discussions keeping in mind that BoF sessions might have the following scope:

  • Bringing together a niche community of interest;
  • Exploring an idea for a project, a standard, a piece of software, a book, an event or anything similar.

I proposed a session about sharing of personal/sensitive data. Luckily, the topic was selected for a discussion and I co-chaired the discussion together with Fiona Nielsen from Repositive. We both thought that the discussion was great and our blog post from the session is available here.

And again, I was very sorry to be the only attendee from Cambridge at the conference. There were four parallel discussions and since I was chairing one of them, I was unable to take part in the others. I would have liked to be able to participate in discussions on ‘Data visualisation’ and ‘Metadata Schemas’ as well.

Workshops: Appraisal, Quality Assurance and Risk Assessment

The last day was again devoted to workshops. I attended an excellent workshop from the Pericles project on the appraisal, quality assurance and risk assessment in research data management. The project was about how an institutional repository should conduct data audits when accepting data deposits and also how to measure the risks of datasets becoming obsolete.

These are extremely difficult questions and due to their complexity, very difficult to address. Still, the project leaders realised the importance of addressing them systematically and ideally in an (semi)automated way by using specialised software to help repository managers making the right preservation decisions.

In a way I felt sorry for the presenters – their project progress and ambitions were so high that probably none of us, attendees, were able to critically contribute to the project – we were all deeply impressed by the high level of questions asked, but our own experience with data preservation and policy automation was nowhere at the level demonstrated by the workshop leaders.

My take home message from the workshop is that proper audit of ingested data is of crucial importance. Even if there is no automation of risk assessment possible, repository managers should at least collect information about files being deposited to be able to assess the likelihood of their obsolescence in the future. Or at least to be able to identify key file formats/software types as selected preservation targets to ensure that the key datasets do not become obsolete. For me the workshop was a real highlight of the conference.

Networking and the positive energy

Lots of useful workshops, plenty of thought-provoking talks. But for me one of the most important parts of the conference was meeting with great colleagues and having fascinating discussions about data management practices. I never thought I could spend an evening (night?) with people who would be willing to talk about research data without the slightest sights of boredom. And the most joyful and refreshing part of the conference was that due to the fact we were from across the globe, our discussions diverted away from the compliance aspect of data policies. Free from policy, we were able to address issues of how to best support research data management: how to best help researchers, what are our priority needs, what data managers should do first with our limited resources.

I am looking forward to catching up next year with all the colleagues I have met in Amsterdam and to see what progress we will have all made with our projects and what should be our collective next moves.

Summarising, I came back with lots of new ideas and full of energy and good attitude – ready to advocate for the bigger picture and the greater good. I came back exhausted, but I cannot imagine spending four days any more productively and fruitfully than at IDCC.

Thanks so much to the organisers and to all the participants!

Published 8 March 2016
Written by Dr Marta Teperek

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