For free distribution
The University of Helsinki’s legal services are currently drawing up a new contract model that would grant the university and possibly third parties co-ownership rights to the research data gathered by the university’s researchers. Similar contracts have been prepared in other Finnish universities, but for now these contracts are narrower in scope than what University of Helsinki is planning. There is unfortunately little concrete information about these plans, but discussion events on the issue have been organised for university staff, and a preliminary bulletin has been circulated through the university’s intranet. Reasons given for the University of Helsinki’s proposed contract model include the advantages of open science, the smoother administrative functioning, and guaranteed continuation of work done by research groups even if a project member leaves the group. Such cases occur only rarely, but according to the contract model the transfer of researchers’ data rights would apply to all researchers in the research group, and across all research disciplines. In preparing this contract model, however, it is important to take into account the unique characteristics of different disciplines and their research data. Differences across scientific fields are greater than what the parties behind the new contract model appear to have grasped. Universities in Finland seem to have approached this issue as a primarily legal problem. However, from the perspective of ethnographic research, the problems associated with co-ownership are primarily ethical in nature.
In the ethnographic research practiced by anthropologists, researchers participate closely in the lives of the people they study for months or even years. The relationships between researchers and the persons they study are based on trust and confidentiality. Researchers have access to complex, deep and often highly personal details (through interviews, observations, photos, videos, documents, etc.) of people’s lives. Researchers also record their own thoughts and interpretations during the research process. For this reason, turning over data to outside parties based on prior contract agreement raises serious ethical issues. Research participants must be able to trust that the information they have shared with researchers in confidence does not end up in the hands of others. If the research institution cannot guarantee this, it may reduce the willingness of the people of study to engage in dialogue with researchers. Moreover, outside parties not acquainted with the research context often have no means of understanding ethnographic data and therefore often no way of using it in a way that would produce valid research results. It is therefore vital that those researchers who collect the data and are experts on its context have the sole right to distribute the data.
Claims that the transfer of data rights to universities is necessary due to the demands of open science are not based on fact. Open science is best carried out through a Creative Commons license, which already now makes data and research knowledge available to all. Such licenses also adhere to the EU’s open science policy according to which science should be “as open as possible and as closed as necessary.” Our stance is that from the point of view of anthropology and many other scientific disciplines, it is ethically irresponsible to relinquish research data rights to research institutions or to third parties before the data is even collected. Contracts that stipulate the signing over of research data rights should therefore not be accepted as a routine practice. We strongly urge that both current and future contracts be examined in cooperation with Finnish scientific societies so that the unique ethical questions regarding research data produced within various scientific fields can receive careful consideration.
The Finnish Anthropological Society
Contact: Pres. Jukka Jouhki (email@example.com, 050 575 0576), Vice-Pres. Mari Korpela (firstname.lastname@example.org, 050 318 6131)