View on and map of Barcelona, ca. 1701-1713, Abraham Allard, after anonymous.

The Barcelona Declaration on Open Research Information wants to make research data infrastructure more transparent

On April 16th 2024, 40 organisations signed the Barcelona Declaration on Open Research Information with the aim of preserving academic independence. The declaration calls on research institutions to unite around shared principles for open research information and a commitment to developing open research data infrastructure.

Most of the conversation about Open Science in academic publishing is about Open Access to the output of scientific research, namely academic publications. Our call for a Digital Knowledge Act for Europe for instance, proposes a secondary publication right, obligation and exception in order to diminish academic publisher’s power over academic knowledge production and to ensure that publicly funded research is ultimately made available to all.

There is however another aspect of Open Science which deserves equal attention if we are to preserve academic independence in the digital era. The Barcelona Declaration calls our attention to the need for greater openness about the process of academic knowledge production itself. Similarly to the situation with the academic publications themselves, research metadata, i.e. data about publications, their authors and citations, are locked into proprietary black-box platforms run by for-profit service providers.

An ongoing fight for academic independence from for-profit service providers

Already in 2012, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) recognized the problem with academia’s reliance on inappropriate and untransparent metrics for the evaluation of academic research such as citation statistics and university rankings. Most notably, it criticised academia’s reliance on the journal impact factor (JIF) to compare academic output. The JIF calculates the yearly mean number of citations of articles published in the last two years in a given journal. They are indexed by the publicly traded analytics company Clarivate’s paid-access platform Web of Science which sells citation data in journals and conference proceedings.

Since Clarivate is a private company, the determination of this metric is not transparent. Moreover, the JIF was designed as a proxy for the relative importance of a publication with the aim of helping librarians select what to include in their collections and not as a metric to evaluate the quality of the research, which is what it is currently being used as within academia today. As an alternative for academia’s reliance on proprietary metrics, DORA recommended that publishers make available the reference lists in research articles with a public domain dedication.

SPARC’s 2019 report further confirmed the need to prevent influence of private companies over the academic knowledge production cycle, by publishing academic knowledge production data as open data and more specifically, to develop an independent open infrastructure for their publication.

A linked open data ecosystem for Open Science

The Barcelona Declaration is the outcome of a workshop initiated by the SIRIS foundation in November 2023 that brought together research information experts from organisations that carry out, fund and evaluate academic research.

Signatories of the Barcelona Declaration include both research performing organisations such as universities as well as research funding organisations and governments. The declaration is also supported by academic open data publishers such as Crossref, DataCite and ORCID and aggregates such as OpenAlex, OpenCitations and OpenAIRE as well as discipline-specific Open Access publication platforms such as PubMed and Europe PMC and finally local and national infrastructures such as La Referencia, SciELO and Redalyc.

The signatories of the Barcelona Declaration demand fundamental change in the research information landscape, which can only be brought about by concerted efforts and collaboration between research institutions. In order to make research data work in one transparent ecosystem, the signatories commit themselves to adhere to the FAIR (findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability) principles.

The signatories of the declaration commit themselves to 1) publish their data as open data under a Creative Commons CC0 waiver or public domain dedication; 2) build data infrastructures that connect to a wider ecosystem for open research data by using standardised protocols; 3) publish machine readable data by using internationally recognised standards and 4) make use of persistent identifiers which are already put in place such as DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers), ORCIDs (Open Researcher and Contributor IDs), and ROR (Research Organization Registry) IDs to reference research outputs, researchers, research organisations, and other entities.

The Barcelona Declaration is open to additional signatories.

 

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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