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Making Science Open: A Neuroimaging Research Perspective

In their article “Four aspects to make science open “by design” and not as an after-thought“, Yaroslav whatisdigitalpreservation_hvaderdigitalbevaring_digitalpreservationHalchenko and Michael Hanke share some interesting thoughts on ensuring the longevity of open scientific projects and on fostering sharing of methodologies, data, and results while reducing associated risks. They make a compelling point that every researchers should consider:

It is important to understand that making your research products open to everyone now could be the only way to make them available to yourself in the future; for example, in case of a change of employment, or of a company policy.

Halchenko and Hanke highlight some of the successes in the field such as the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse, integrated turnkey software platforms such as NeuroDebian, and public datasets being made available from archives such as OpenFMRI, the NITRC image repository , and the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience website. And, the authors remind us of the following four key aspects that researchers need to keep in mind when sharing their data and projects: 1. Respect trademarks: “Trademarks (commonly names and logos) exist to protect the identity of products or services and claim their exclusive properties.” The authors suggest “whenever deciding on a new project name or logo, verify that you are not infringing on an existing registered trademark, or in conflict with another open project. Both the US Patent and Trademark Office website and generic web search engines could be used to make a quick check. In the case of reusing names/logos of FOSS projects, check their trademark policies and consult the project owners.” 2. Clarify ownership:

In the research context, there are typically three copyright-related issues to consider: 1) is a product copyrightable; and if so 2) who is the owner; and finally 3) do rights need to be transferred to a third-party (e.g., to a publisher)?  It is widely accepted that software (code and binaries), writing (articles, etc.), and artwork are copyrightable. The situation is less clear (and varies widely across different jurisdictions) in the case of application program interfaces (APIs) and data.

To establish whether researchers could make their work open, the authors suggest working closely with a “technology transfer” department or similar. “When publishing, consider venues that do not require you to surrender your copyright or to provide exclusive rights.” 3. Choose appropriate licenses (linked to the notion of copyright, defining rights granted by an Intellectual Property’s (IP’s) owner that dictate how a product can be used and (re)distributed by a licensee)

The most common problem with licenses in the research context is related to the “borrowing” of source code from another product that was not released under a license permitting redistribution (as in the previously mention “Numerical Recipes” example) or imposing restrictions (e.g., non-commercial use). The longer such incidents go unnoticed, the greater the negative impact for studies employing such products, and the greater the threat to the longevity of the product itself.

The authors suggest if an institution/employer owns a product and the copyright, researchers should negotiate the choice of license with them. Use a standard one from Creative Commons or Open Data Commons, and ideally one that is known to conform to Debian Free Software Guidelines and/or is Open Source Initiative (OSI)-approved. 4. Obtain permission to share (generally implemented as a license; protection of the participants’ privacy is of paramount importance when making imaging data publicly available)

The decentralization of IRBs and the heterogeneity in their interpretation of the legal situation is one reason for the present lack of a commonly accepted language for participant consent forms to enable the sharing of research data. Consequently, many researchers simply exclude any data sharing statement in their consent forms to avoid frustration and delays in IRB evaluations.

The authors suggest the provision public data sharing via data archives in consent forms before researchers begin collecting the data. The Open Brain Consent project can be used to obtain samples of consent forms used at other institutions, and software for anonymization of data for sharing. Keep reading


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