On October 10 2016 the Centre Virchow-Villermé hosted a workshop on “Fostering Open Science in Global Health – the case of datasharing in Public Health Emergenices”. Featuring a diverse panel with representatives from different fields and different parts of the world, the workshop identified barriers and bottlenecks of an open approach to datasharing and science in general.
More than just data, more than just emergencies
Public health emergencies like the recent Zika and Ebola outbreaks illustrate the need for a more collaborative approach to research. Keeping information on screened viral genomes in situations where time counts the most is directly delaying the development of adequate responses.
However, Katherine Littler from the Wellcome Trust pointed out very early in the workshop “What is good for Public Health Emergencies is good for any research”, “There is no reason to hold information back.” Comments from the audience sounded even more drastic: “There are no other reason for not sharing research data but prestige or selfishness.”
Katherine Littler of the Wellcome Trust describing how much more effort is needed to change practises in science. (Image: World Health Summit)
Dr Ali Sié, a researcher from Nuna in Burkina Faso generally supported “Open Science” as a concept. Nevertheless, immediate sharing of clinical trial data would lead to even greater North-South inequalities in the research communities. He argued that those collecting data are not necessarily those with the biggest computing power. When making raw data directly acces- and processible, researchers in the global north could use technological expertise and piggy back on this and leverage the data faster than those who collected it in the global south.
As long as scientific reputation is based on publications in high impact journals, sharing is not incentivized. A paradigm shift in recognizing the value of shared data sets is highly needed.
Dr Diallo from the Guinean Ministry of Health and Professor at the University of Conakry pointed out that data itself is only valuable when seen in the context of its creation. The community aspect of research, especially in outbreak situation, needs to be considered when opening datasets to the public.
Sceptisism meets interest – impressions from the workshop (Image: World Health Summit)
How to open science
Eventhough data and information on trials are technically available, they are often spread out on the Internet and difficult to find. “Open Trials”, an initiative by Open Knowledge International aims to do something about this issue by collecting “all the data on all the trials, Linked.” They launched the public beta version on our workshop.
Researchers, the private sector, as well as government representatives present agreed, that in fact early career researchers need to sustain the movement in favour of more open and collaborative science as the default option within academia. Some questions remain unanswered – but the Centre Virchow-Villermé remains committed to offer a platform of exchange to discuss and support a shift in current practises.
You can read more about the workshop in this BMJ Blog: