Invest 5% of research funds in ensuring data are reusable

“In 2013, I was part of a group of Dutch experts from many disciplines that called on our national science funder to support data stewardship. Seven years later, policies that I helped to draft are starting to be put into practice. These require data created by machines and humans to meet the FAIR principles (that is, they are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable). I now direct an international Global Open FAIR office tasked with helping communities to implement the guidelines, and I am convinced that doing so will require a large cadre of professionals, about one for every 20 researchers.

Even when data are shared, the metadata, expertise, technologies and infrastructure necessary for reuse are lacking. Most published data sets are scattered into ‘supplemental files’ that are often impossible for machines or even humans to find. These and other sloppy data practices keep researchers from building on each other’s work. In cases of disease outbreaks, for instance, this might even cost lives….

I tell research institutions that, on average, 5% of overall research costs should go towards data stewardship. With €300 billion (US$325 billion) of public money spent on research in the European Union, we should expect to spend €15 billion on data stewardship. Scientists, especially more experienced ones, are often upset when I say this. They see it as 5% less funding for research.

Bunk. First, taking care of data is an ethical duty, and should be part of good research practice. Second, if data are treated properly, researchers will have significantly more time to do research. Consider the losses incurred under the current system….”