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Calling on universities and funders: make research information open

Crucial information about research, funding or how university rankings are created is often not freely accessible. The Barcelona Declaration on Open Research Information calls for such information to be made open. Professor Ludo Waltman is one of its initiators. What needs to change?

Over 40 organisations in Europe and beyond have signed the Barcelona Declaration at its launch on 16 April and that is just the beginning, says Waltman. In the Netherlands, alongside Leiden University, the University of Groningen, VU Amsterdam and research funders the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and ZonMw are participating.

‘It is essential that the data behind decisions about research and researchers be fully open and transparent’

Waltman is the director of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS). He has been fighting for open science for some time now in the Academia in Motion programme. What is the added value of the Barcelona Declaration? ‘By signing it, organisations are making a firm commitment to also ensuring the free accessibility of all research-related metadata, such as who the partners and funders are and how the research was published.’

Remove restrictions

According to the Barcelona Declaration (see below), too often research information is stored in infrastructure managed by commercial vendors who own this information. These impose strict restrictions on the use of the information. This makes it difficult to detect errors and other problems with the data. ‘Research funders and university administrators and policy-makers use this kind of data to make important decisions’, says Waltman. ‘They allocate research funds to disciplines, for example, and make decisions that determine researchers’ future careers. As so much is at stake, we say it is essential that the data behind these decisions be fully open and transparent. For us in Leiden, this means, for example, that we are going to ask academic publishers to work with us to make sure this kind of data is fully open.’

Main points from the Barcelona Declaration

The signatories have made the following commitments:

  •  We will make openness the default for the research information we use and produce.
  •  We will work with services and systems that support and enable open research information.
  •  We will support the sustainability of infrastructures for open research information.
  • We will support collective action to accelerate the transition to openness of research information.

Download the Barcelona Declaration

University rankings

There also needs to be much more transparency about university rankings such as Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings, says Waltman. ‘These rankings are very influential but are usually not reproducible because the underlying information is restricted.’ The Barcelona Declaration also calls for this kind of data to be made accessible. ‘We ask all organisations that conduct, fund and evaluate research to support the transition to open research information and to sign the Barcelona Declaration on Open Research Information.’

‘Rankings are very influential but are usually not reproducible because the underlying information is restricted.

Leiden Ranking

Waltman’s institute, the CWTS, which studies the research system, has been publishing the Leiden Ranking for over 15 years. The Leiden Ranking does not provide an overall assessment of universities’ performances but focuses on the scholarly articles they publish and looks at the level of open access and citation impact, for example. ‘From this year we are basing the Leiden Ranking on public data and algorithms so that everyone can see exactly how the ranking came about’, says Waltman. ‘We have taken the first step and now ask others to do the same. This applies to not only rankings but also other scientometric statistics that show what is happening in the research system. All such statistics that we produce at the CWTS will be fully transparent within a few years.’

Changes in research system

Changing the system is a challenge but with the transition to open science, much is already happening. ‘More and more data sources and infrastructures are making research information openly available. They can now do almost the same as the restricted versions.’ Waltman accepts that this is scary for commercial database providers because their traditional revenue model is increasingly difficult to sustain. ‘But the transition also provides opportunities in new forms of service delivery. Businesses will reposition themselves and rethink what they have to offer the academic community.’

Response from Rector Hester Bijl

Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl is a strong advocate for open research information, which is why she signed the Barcelona Declaration on behalf of Leiden University. ‘This declaration is an important step toward making research metadata much more accessible and will help make the research ecosystem more diverse, inclusive and transparent’, she says. ‘I am proud that Leiden is at the forefront of this movement.’

Text: Linda van Putten

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