Open Access to Data: Europe heading for free movement of knowledge

11.02.2013
How do we implement open access to data? And what are the next steps? These were some of the key questions raised at a seminar in Brussels on 5 February 2013. NordForsk had invited representatives of the European Commission and several research and science organisation to discuss some of the challenges facing scientists and politicians aiming to achieve the European Research Area (ERA).

Jose Cotta, Brussel 060313

Mr José Cotta, Head of Unit of Digital Science in DG Connect, called for a joint effort among Member States and all concerned stakeholders in the area of open access to research data. He also announced that the European Commission plans to run a pilot on open data in Horizon 2020. In this context, he called on all the organisations present to send to the European Commission their input on the question of open access to data as soon as possible and in any case before the summer.

“In order to achieve open access to data, we need a new deal,” said Gunnel Gustafsson, Director of NordForsk, in her closing remarks. “Most of all, we need politicians and researchers to talk together, and the issue of multidisciplinarity should be higher up on the agenda,” urged Gustafsson.

The Open Access to Data seminar was hosted by NordForsk at the Mission of Norway to the EU. Mr Atle Leikvoll, Ambassador of Norway to the EU, and Mr Halldór Asgrímsson, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, welcomed the more than 50 participants to the seminar. The main purpose of the seminar was to follow up the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the European Commission and NordForsk in Brussels on 31 July 2012 and to ease the way towards “free movement of knowledge,” as Mr. Asgrímsson put it.

“Open access to data will completely change the landscape of research,“ said Mr. Octavi Quintana-Trias, Director of DG Research and Innovation (the European Commission) in his opening statement. “Open access can be defined as the practice of providing on-line access to scientific information that is free of charge to the reader. Open access is now fostered by the Commission very heavily and it is a hot topic politically.”

Professor Sverker Holmgren, Program Director for the Nordic eScience Globalisation Initiative, stated that a lot of work needs to be done and efficient tools and infrastructure to be in place, for open access to become a reality. “One way of achieving this can be to provide support and rewards for academics and scientists who share their data,” said Holmgren, who added that open access to data is not a new topic:  “Basically, it has been around since the beginning of science. The Royal Society of London made the principle clear in 1863. The Palomar Observatory Sky Survey from 1958, the Human Genome Project and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) are good examples of how open data benefits science globally.”

Dr. Erwin Folmer, representing EARTO, said that there are many open data sources today, the problem being that they are not useful and not being used: “We should rather talk about linked open data. We see government offices scanning PDFs and other documents, meaning that the data become available, but they are not reusable and therefore not useful. Open data is just a first step.”

Everybody agreed that open access should be the basic rule.  However, there were differences in opinion when it comes to the question of how to get there, and also regarding technical, organizational, financial, legal and ethical issues.

“We are still far from being there, when it comes to open access and open data,” said José Cotta from DG Direct and the European Commission. He added: “We are still in the listening mode.”

(Text: Dag Inge Danielsen/Photo: Terje Heiestad)

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