Riding A New Transparency Wave In Science, Academia.Edu Lets Researchers Share Their Raw Data

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Social, Startup, Technology

20130507-085057.jpg. It wasn’t until widely respected economists Carmen
Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff shared the Excel files
behind their influential paper on the relationship
between government debt and economic growth, that
a very basic and consequential spreadsheet error was
discovered. Suddenly, a conclusion that policy makers around the
world had seized on for years to justify steep
spending cuts was thrown in doubt. That’s why Richard Price, the CEO of a social
network for researchers called Academia.edu, says
that sharing raw research data should be expected
from the start. His platform is adding a feature today
that lets researchers post the data behind their work
through embeddable data-sets and code on their profile pages. “They literally drew the wrong rectangle and dropped
off the last few rows of data. It wasn’t a hardcore
programming error,” he said. Price asserts that the Reinhart-Rogoff controversy
along with another recent scandal involving a Dutch
social scientist who faked data for 10 years is
damaging public trust in scientific research. Price said the Dutch scientist Diederik Stapel justified
his fraudulent data by saying he felt pressure to make
conclusions simpler for the journals. ”He said, ‘They
want elegant results and elegant data with beautiful
conclusions. But the data behind an experiment can
be so messy.’” Because of incidents like the Stapel fraud, Price
believes that a pushback against traditional, less
transparent and more expensive publishing models is
gaining steam. Other competitors like ResearchGate
and ScienceExchange are jumping on the bandwagon
too. “The academic community is getting a bit radicalized
about publishing,” he said. “It’s literally happened in
the last 12 months with a series of things that are
spreading a wave of awareness.” Historically, academics have only shared their
finished work in the form of a paper that’s vetted by a
journal (that’s then sold back to universities at
sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of dollars
a year). Academics have been slower to jump on behaviors
from consumer social media where people publish
quick updates instead of longer-form content. He
says that about three-quarters of the world’s scientific
data isn’t shared because the right incentives and
platforms haven’t existed. “Publishing scientific research is changing from being
a very focused discipline to one where a fuller range
of outputs and multimedia is being shared,” Price
said. “Part of pushing this forward is about getting the
incentives right. If you share your data, you should
be able to build your reputation.” One benefit is that collaborating researchers might be
able to take the basic data and tease out totally
different ideas than the original academic. You can read more in Price’s blog post here.

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