[open-science] Planning to publish your data could keep FoI requests from your door!
c.rusbridge at googlemail.com
Thu Sep 23 16:04:21 BST 2010
I've been asking the FoI list about FoI exemptions for research data in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a useful exemption). I tried this by means of a scenario that I'll repeat here:
"Let's suppose we have a research group working at the University of Pippleton in England on a publicly-funded research project. Their work does not involve environmental information, so EIR does not come into it. Let's say their work is in the highly competitive prateomics field, so there are no privacy or medical ethics issues involved. They are aware that there are several competing groups in other universities working on related lines of enquiry. In fact, there's a bit of a race on to see who can assemble enough data to write a potentially highly prestigious paper.
One day our researchers in Pippleton receive a request from their competitors in the University of Lunchester asking for all the data they have assembled on the XYZ problem: precisely the area that the Pippleton folk have been working on. They've heard a rumour that Lunchester has fallen a bit behind in its data gathering, so it looks as if they are trying to use FoI to steal a march on Pippleton. If Pippleton can refuse the FoI request, then they have a chance to win; if they have to release the data, then Lunchester can combine it with their own, and they will win.
Pippleton clearly wants to refuse the request. However, they had no plans to release the XYZ problem data itself, merely a few subsets of it to illustrate the article they were planning. The information isn't available anywhere else. There's no external confidentiality preventing release. The Principal Investigator thinks he might go mad if he has to release it, but they can hardly go for a Health and Safety exemption on those grounds. There's no personal information.
If Pippleton were in Scotland, then FoISA S27(b) would probably do the trick, but I'm concerned at this moment about the rest of the UK.
The only exemption that I can see that might apply is FoIA S43: Commercial interests... Can it apply?"
There was some contrary opinions among the list members on whether commercial interests could be applied; the "highly competitive" phrase convinced one that it could, while others were not so sanguine.
But the response I thought particularly interesting was from Ganesh:
"Perhaps Pippleton should formulate a policy of publishing their raw data once certain criteria are met - e.g. all papers relating to it are published and there's no expectation of writing more. Too late for this request, but it would mean s22 could potentially protect them in future, though of course it might ultimately fail on the public interest arguments."
So, it's possible that Open Data could help prevent your research being scooped prior to publication!
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Email: c.rusbridge at gmail.com
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