Freely accessible original data allows other scientists to check and verify that published results are in fact substantiated by the data collected. In addition, this original open data can be used to answer further research questions. However, disclosing all the data behind a published scientific finding is not yet a matter of course: In the period of 2015 to 2017, open data was only available for published results in about 3 percent of the publications from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and about 15 percent of the publications from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC). In order to increase this proportion, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and the BIH QUEST Center are making 100,000 euros each available in 2019 to incentivize scientists from Charité and the MDC to disclose the research data belonging to a publication. As a result, Charité has become the first medical faculty in Germany to recognize open data within the framework of its internal performance-based allocation of funds.
“This extra reward is intended to motivate scientists to more frequently include open data in their publications,” says Prof. Ulrich Dirnagl, founding director of the BIH QUEST Center and co-initiator of the open data incentive. However, publishing open data is not always appropriate: for example, patient data may only be disclosed in compliance with data protection regulations. Another fear occasionally voiced is that including open data in publications could have a negative effect on patent applications, but Ulrich Dirnagl believes this fear is unfounded: “As a general rule, results are only published following the successful filing of a patent application. And providing open data ensures everyone can see that statements about, for example, the effectiveness and safety of a new measure are genuinely based on the existing data.”
The financial reward is also intended to support these two institutions in further developing their open data practices. In many biomedical research fields, there are still no open data standards. In order to find out which publications have original data available, the BIH QUEST Center team has developed an algorithm that the center’s staff can use to automatically search a large number of publications for the corresponding open data (the algorithm is publicly accessible at https://github.com/quest-bih/oddpub).
And providing open data is not only worthwhile for the financial incentive; it can also help further an individual’s scientific career. “Our experience shows that publications are also cited more frequently when we make the corresponding data available,” emphasizes adjunct professor Dr. Robert Preißner, a researcher in physiology and head of Science IT at Charité. The data records themselves can be cited with the help of a Digital Object Identification (DOI) number. In addition, if the data is well prepared, other scientists can use them in further analyses and cite the original authors in their studies .
“This maximized utilization of existing knowledge is extremely valuable for society as a whole – a fact that will also be reflected in future excellence initiatives,” says Ulrich Dirnagl, who is himself conducting research in the field of neurology. “BIH’s open data incentive is intended to effectively prepare researchers for these demands.”
And this incentive is planned to continue. A medium-term goal is for open data to be established as a fixed part of performance-based research and thus contribute to the further development of the performance-based allocation of funds. The aim of this funding system is to encourage high-quality research.