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Wellcome Trust awards PLOS a grant to test ways to increase sharing and discovery of research data

Author: Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, PLOS’ Director of Open Research

PLOS has been awarded a grant from the Wellcome Trust’s 2021 Open Research Fund to accelerate development and testing of new solutions that promote and reward open science. PLOS Pathogens will be piloting the latest version of the Dryad data repository, provided free of charge to authors and integrated into the publishing experience, along with prominent visual links on publications designed to incentivise open research practices.

Why test solutions?
Open Science practices, such as availability of supporting datasets, have been associated with more trustworthy reports of research. Sharing research data in repositories is considered best practice for data sharing — data in repositories are more findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) — but most researchers share data by other methods. After studying PLOS authors’ needs in 2020, we concluded we must seamlessly integrate tools into researchers’ publishing workflow to reduce the effort involved in adopting good practice. Especially when the incentives for adopting Open Science practices in research evaluation are not always immediate, or widely established.

While we found in our research that many researchers seem to be satisfied with their ability to share research data, conversely,  we also found many researchers have challenges in accessing research data that they can reuse — which could be addressed in part by wider use of repositories. Even for COVID-19 research publications, the rate of research data sharing appears to be low and methods of data sharing often do not support the FAIR Principles.

What will we test?

To incentivise increased use of data repositories and better connecting of data to publications — practices associated with more impactful research — we’re going to test, starting later in 2021, solutions that require minimal behavioural change from researchers.

The first solution we’ll be testing is the multidisciplinary curated data repository Dryad, which can now be seamlessly integrated into the submission experience of PLOS Pathogens. Dryad offers researchers curation of their data, and bidirectional linking between data and publications, and minimises additional effort for practicing Open Science. We’re extending our long-standing partnership with Dryad by adopting its latest functionality and covering data deposit and curation fees for an unlimited number of papers in PLOS Pathogens.

The second solution is prominent functional links to associated research data in a repository, highlighted with visual cues on published articles – deployed in an automated fashion on PLOS Pathogens, and a comparator group of articles published in other PLOS journals.

Wellcome’s funding will support expert design and optimisation of these visual cues so that they are engaging to readers and deployable on the PLOS platform, and in-depth user research to help us understand why the solutions have any of the effects we might observe.

Community collaboration

PLOS staff (Lauren Cadwallader, James Harney, Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, Veronique Kiermer) are delighted to partner with the Editors in Chief of PLOS Pathogens (Prof Kasturi Haldar and Prof Michael Malim) as members of the project team, and to connect with the journal’s wider community of researchers.

Expected outcomes

While our goal is to implement and test solutions rather than purely to do research, our approach is expected to result in shareable outcomes and evidence, including:

  • A measurable increase in use of data repositories by authors
  • Increased engagement with research data linked from PLOS articles
  • Understanding as to why these solutions are (or are not) effective at incentivising open research practices, as well as their costs and benefits
  • Reports from qualitative and quantitative research and analysis, which we’ll share openly

By using simple, repeatable solutions and continuing to share what we learn, we expect other publishers and stakeholders will benefit from greater understanding of the effectiveness of these solutions. We also anticipate that highlighting and enabling best practices will help make Open Science more normative, which may ultimately increase trustworthiness in research.

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