Why the Current Insistence on Open Access to Scientific Data? Big Data, Knowledge Production, and the Political Economy of Contemporary Biology

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Sabina Leonelli, Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter, Byrne House, St Germans Road, Exeter, EX4 4PJ, UK. Email: s.leonelli@exeter.ac.ukAbstract

The collection and dissemination of data on human and nonhuman organisms has become a central feature of 21st-century biology and has been endorsed by funding agencies in the United States and Europe as crucial to translating biological research into therapeutic and agricultural innovation. Large molecular data sets, often referred to as “big data,” are increasingly incorporated into digital databases, many of which are freely accessible online. These data have come to be seen as resources that play a key role in mediating global market exchange, thus achieving a prominent social and economic status well beyond science itself. At the same time, calls to make all such data publicly and freely available have garnered strength and visibility, most prominently in the form of the Open Data movement. I discuss these developments by considering the conditions under which data journey across the communities and institutions implicated in globalized biology and biomedicine, and what this indicates about how Internet-based communication and the use of online databases affect scientific research and its role within contemporary society.

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