March was another busy month for stakeholders in the ever-expanding world of open access (OA) and its sibling, open data. During the past few weeks, we’ve seen a small step forward for FASTR, an important piece of proposed U.S. legislation. Open Data had an equally busy month, with several calls-to-action for support and advocacy and the splashy launch of the new Open Data Button. Although NewsBreaks periodically covers important news happening within the OA world, this article marks an important milestone: It’s the first time open data has been featured so prominently within an OA roundup.
FASTR Moves to the Senate Floor
The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act of 2015 (S 779 and HR 1477) slowly continues forward. On March 8, FASTR moved out of committee and was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
If passed, FASTR would require all federal agencies that spend more than $100 million on grant-funded research to develop public access policies and would require that published research become free-to-access after a maximum 12-month embargo period. FASTR is not technically an OA mandate, because it does not require research to be reusable via an open license. Furthermore, the 12-month embargo period has frustrated many OA advocates. Regardless, free access after 12 months is a big step—and a vast improvement over no public access.
FASTR may sound awfully similar to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo that just celebrated its third anniversary—and it should. FASTR is indeed consistent with the policy put forth by the OSTP. But Elliot Harmon from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains in a blog post, “[T]he new Senate version of FASTR doesn’t break much new ground beyond what the White House memo currently requires. On the other hand, a new administration is just around the corner. Codifying the open access mandate in law will ensure that future administrations make publicly funded research available to the public.”
Open Data Day
On March 5, 200-plus Open Data Day events of all sizes were held around the world to celebrate open data, and, more importantly, to put open data into practice. According to its website, “Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.”
The events generally have a grassroots feel to them, similar to those during Open Access Week, and are locally sponsored and loosely connected to each other. But some of the events are bigger and more formally organized and have corporate sponsors—Open Data Day DC 2016 had more than 150 participants and several sponsors, such as Socrata, Fastcase, the Sunlight Foundation, and Amazon Web Services.
Overall, Open Data Day is gaining steam and participants each year. A crowdsourced list of Open Data Day events is available as a Google Spreadsheet, which features links to write-ups of several events. The list includes an Open Inspiration Data Day (Barcelona, Spain), a workshop on open data and data journalists (Asunción, Paraguay), an Open Data for Agriculture app demo and Open Data for Civic Experience gathering (Akure, Nigeria), an inaugural Open Data Day coffee meet-up (Doha, Qatar), and continued work to translate the Open Data Handbook into Vietnamese (Hanoi, Vietnam).
The folks behind the Open Data Day website, a team sponsored by Open Knowledge, issued a humorous call to arms for librarians to get involved: “I heard you folks like books and eat catalogs of data for breakfast. You beautiful people are going to scour the earth for interesting data, help the rest of us figure out what’s important, and generally be useful.”
Open Data Button
In conjunction with Open Data Day, the Open Data Button launched in beta. Led by David Carroll, Joe McArthur, and Georgina Taylor, the team behind the Open Access Button developed this new companion tool.
The Open Access Button was designed to help connect potential readers with research articles locked up behind paywalls. The Open Data Button follows a similar model, although most data is inaccessible because it is unpublished and languishing on researchers’ hard drives rather than publicly and openly shared via open repositories. The Open Data Button is designed to encourage, incentivize, and facilitate sharing data and directly connect researchers and others who are interested in accessing data to data owners.
Using the Open Data Button is quite straightforward. The About page states, “When you need the data supporting a paper (even if it’s behind a paywall), push the Button. If the data has already been made available through the Open Data Button, we’ll give you a link. If it hasn’t, you’ll be able to start a request for the data. [Eventually,] we want to search a variety of other sources for it—but can’t yet.”
Next, once the Button receives a request for a dataset:
The request will be sent to the author. We know sharing data can be hard and there’s sometimes good reasons not to. The author will be able to respond to it by saying how long it’ll take to share the data—or if they can’t. If the data is already available, the author can simply share a URL to the dataset. If it isn’t, they can attach files to a response for us to make available. Files shared with us will be deposited in the Open Science Framework for identification and archiving. The Open Science Framework supports data sharing for all disciplines. As much metadata as possible will be obtained from the paper, the rest we’ll ask the author for.
Although the Open Data Button launched in beta form, users are able to download and install it via the Chrome Web Store. A Firefox version is still under development.
Development funding for the Open Data Button was provided by the Center for Open Science, the Open Society Foundations, and individuals’ donations.