I have been talking a lot this week about open data this week as we draw closer to Open Data Day. Tomorrow I’ll be at the Open Data Day event in Calgary for all the fun and games one might expect from an Open Data Day. In my last post before the event I wanted to talk about a different kind of open data. I started this series by defining open data within the context of government data. There is a great deal of data out there which is paid for by the government and tax payers but is held secret. I am speaking of the research from universities.

The product of universities is research papers. These papers should be published openly for anybody to read and make use of. Instead they are locked away behind pay walls in expensive journals. The price of these papers is absolutely stunning. For instance the quite interesting  paper “Isomorphism Types of Infinite Symmetric Graphs” which was published in 1972 is $34. “Investigating Concurrency in Online Auctions Through Visualization” is $14. This sort of information is rightfully ours as the tax payers who funded the university. It was in an attempt to free this data that Aaron Swartz was arrested and hounded to the death. He downloaded an, admittedly large, number of papers and republished them.

A fallen hero

There should have been no need for this tragedy. The system which allows this practice to continue should be changed, it should be torn down an destroyed. Peer review is an important part of the scientific process and it is pure hubris to assume that all research is done in universities which are able to afford licenses to journals. Who knows how many there are out there like Srinivasa Ramanujan who can benefit from open data.

While I abhor the secrecy of journals there is a greater part to this story. The research behind these papers is rarely opened up to review. We see only the summarized results and perhaps a mention of the methodology. Requiring that actual raw statistical and log data be opened as part of the process of peer review will help alleviate fraudulent research and accelerate the application of new discoveries. Push your politicians to link university funding to openness. It is an idea whose time has come.