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Open Science Breaks Down International Barriers for Researchers

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, March 18 2013

The Research Data Alliance website (screengrab).

Two decades ago, scientists at CERN in Switzerland were among the earliest non-military users of the World Wide Web, posting the first photo to what had been a purely text-based medium, among other innovations.  This week, an international group from the scientific community aims to set new precedents for the future of the Internet, with the launch of a major open data initiative for research and knowledge. 

The Research Data Alliance aims to become an international organization that facilitates the data-sharing between institutions, while maintaining standards and practices for “open science” exchanges of this kind.  Developed this past summer over a series of working groups, the RDA has been led by European Commission’s iCordi (International Collaboration on Research Data Infrastructure), the Australian government’s National Data Service, and the National Science Foundation in the United States.  This week’s Plenary Launch in Gothenburg, Sweden marks a convergence of major speakers on the subject of open research data, as well as the unveiling and ratification of governing bylaws for the organization. 

In a speech given earlier today, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, official representative of the EU’s Digital Agenda, stated the case for European investment in this kind of initiative, in spite of current financial straits: 

The EU has long invested in research and innovation. Now, even in these difficult times, EU leaders have agreed to significantly increase that investment. It's the right thing to do: faced with weak growth, we must all the more focus on future growth, and all the more ensure the tools and knowledge that can make us more productive.

But taxpayers who are paying for that research will want to see something back…That's why we will require open access to all publications stemming from EU-funded research. That's why we will progressively open access to the research data, too. And why we're asking national funding bodies to do the same.

Breaking down the barriers between academic institutions is as much a social as it is a technological development, one that could significantly strengthen understanding and collaboration between international researchers and drive forward scientific progress.  The general public – including businesses that could use open data to evaluate new practices – also stands to benefit from such an initiative.  The EU announced this summer that 60 percent of publicly funded research originating from member states would be freely available by 2016.  In the United States, the dialogue that has followed the death of openness advocate Aaron Swartz has led many to question the cloistering of academic knowledge.  With the scientific community leading the way, we could see these standards evolve significantly over the coming years. 

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