Friday, 13 April 2012
Democratizing research data management
"A bit of competition would certainly do no harm to institutionally-driven RDM projects"
(JISC MRD Project representative along a conversation on LabArchives)
A press release was published last week by BioMed Central announcing its partnership with LabArchives in order to provide access to an enhanced version of this Electronic Lab Notebook to all BMC journal authors. This enhanced version of LabArchives with a default 100 MB storage will allow researchers to assign DOIs to every dataset submitted as supplementary material to any BMC title. Labarchives is howewer not specifically aimed for supplementary data management: on the one hand the platform has a publisher-oriented side for supplementary dataset submission; on the other hand however, LabArchives could also be used as a standard tool for general-purpose research data management. This feature offers researchers the opportunity to use a RDM tool regardless of their institutional affiliation, scientific discipline or country they are working in.
Since the press release was published on Apr 4th, ie just before the Easter holidays arrived, there hasn't been much of a discussion (yet) on its potential implications to research data management. Howewer, this commercial software may provide an additional means to do RDM to all research groups in the UK currently not covered by a JISC MRD project or a specific institutional data policy. Besides this, in those countries where no particular emphasis is being made on the need for RDM initiatives, this tool might mean a very useful way to promote RDM directly among researchers removing the need for institutional data policies, funder mandates on data deposit and even support from data librarians. If we consider the double bottleneck currently preventing RDM activities to succeed in many countries -a top-down one created by the lack of official committement to RDM and a bottom-up one at understaffed institutional repository management teams- this BMC-LabArchives partnership could mean something close to a revolution in research data management if properly disseminated to authors, research groups and institutions.
There are of course other RDM platforms around as of today, such as figshare, Dryad or the growing data repository network, but LabArchives offering researchers the opportunity to publish the data they decide to share (including DOI assignment), a new way has in fact been opened for performing RDM at big and small HEIs. 100 MB -or even the 100 GB storage offered by the LabArchives susbcription-based professional version- may not seem much storage for certain disciplines but it will certainly serve the needs of many other ones and LabArchives may also be installed locally for those centres with larger storage requirements.
While some institutional approaches to RDM infrastructure creation include the development of in-house built RDM platforms, many others couldn't possibly afford the cost of such a task. In this sense, LabArchives means the opportunity to democratize the management of research data. The main requirement for LabArchives to succeed as a fully functional alternative RDM tool is now to ensure its interoperability with other well-known data management platforms such as Dryad or the institutional data repository network. Once it achieves that, it may become a formidable competitor to the JANET-brokered UMF cloud-based infrastructure for data management - and indeed a very useful complement to it.