Embargoing the Term “Embargoes” Indefinitely

I’m two months into a position that lends part of its time to overseeing Dash, a Data Publication platform for the University of California. On my first day I was told that a big priority for Dash was to build out an embargo feature. Coming to the California Digital Library (CDL) from PLOS, an OA publisher with an OA Data Policy, I couldn’t understand why I would be leading endeavors to embargo data and not open it up- so I met this embargo directive with apprehension.

I began to acquaint myself with the campuses and a couple of weeks ago while at UCSF I presented the prototype for what this “embargo” feature would look like and I questioned why researchers wanted to close data on an open data platform. This is where it gets fun.

“Our researchers really just want a feature to keep their data private while their associated paper is under peer review. We see this frequently when people submit to PLOS”.

Yes, I had contributed to my own conflict.

While I laughed about how I was previously the person at PLOS convincing UC researchers to make their data public- I recognized that this would be an easy issue to clarify. And here we are.

Embargoes imply a negative connotation in the open community and I ask that moving forward we do not use this phrase to talk about keeping data private until an associated manuscript has been accepted. Let us call this “Private for Peer Review” or “Timed Release”, with a “Peer Review URL” that is available for sharing data during the peer review process as Dryad does.

  • Embargoes imply that data are being held private for reasons other than the peer review process.
  • Embargoes are not appropriate if you have a funder, publisher, or other mandate to open up your data.
  • Embargoes are not appropriate for sensitive data, as these data should not be held in a public repository (embargoed) unless this were through a data access committee and the repository had proper security.
  • Embargoes are not appropriate for open Data Publications.

To embargo your data for longer than the peer review process (or for other reasons) is to shield your data from being used, built off of, or validated. This is contrary to “Open” as a strategy to further scientific findings and scholarly communications.

Dash is implementing features that will allow researchers to choose, in line with what we believe is reasonable for peer review and revisions, a publication date up to six months after submission. If researchers choose to use this feature, they will be given a Peer Review URL that can be shared to download the data until the data are public. It is important to note though that while the data may be private during this time, the DOI for the data and associated metadata will be public and should be used for citation. These features will be for the use of Peer Review; we do not believe that data should be held private for a period of time on an open data publication platform for other reasons.

Opening up data, publishing data, and giving credit to data are all important in emphasizing that data are a credible and necessary piece of scholarly work. Dash and other repositories will allow for data to be private through peer review (with the intent to have data be public and accessible in the close future). However, my hope is that as the data revolution evolves, incentives to open up data sooner will become apparent. The first step is to check our vocab and limit the use of the term “embargo” to cases where data are being held private without an open data intention.

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