Real Virtualities

Abigail Leffler considers the use of open data in academia

Do you like cartoons? If you do, you may enjoy this eight and a half-minute long one by Piled higher and Deeper (PhD) advocating for the use of open data in academia.

The authors submit that ‘tax payers are already paying for knowledge to be distributed broadly’ (Shockey and Eisen: 2012). Research and peer-reviewed papers in the public domain benefit not only students and researchers in both developed and less developed countries (for the latter, open data is precious as it may be the only resource at hand), but authors as well, as it helps them gain more visibility in their field.

Now here is a disturbing thought, an unfortunate by-product of the times we live in: ‘data will only help if used in the right ways’ (Aday et al: 2010, p. 6). Owners and originators of information are unable to control data once it has been made open, ‘because it can spread so much faster in so many different ways’ (Cowan: 2004, p. 30). Should we be then uploading and applauding all data in the public domain, even if it is sensitive or potentially dangerous? What happens if data falls into the wrong hands? Are there any mechanisms for accountability in open data?







Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

Cowan, R., 2004. Economic Overview of Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Scientific and Technical Information, in Esanu, J. et al. (eds), in Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Scientific and Technical Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium. Washington: National Academies Press.

Shockey, N. And Eisen, J., 2012. Open Access Explained! [online] 25 October. Available at: [Accessed 6 October 2014].


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