Jim Malone: Shaping the progress of science - Data sharing in the Persian Gulf
“I always wanted to travel overseas. When I finished my master’s degree, an opportunity came up,” recalled Jim Malone, Ph.D., ORAU section manager for research services. Malone served as library director at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in 2007, then worked for the library at Weill Cornell Medicine— Qatar in 2009. Through these positions, Malone made contacts with scientists around the world who needed data for their research. He never realized these foreign connections would lead to others later in his career as well as a research project for his doctoral degree.
These experiences in the Middle East and Central Asia give Malone rare expertise. His knowledge of data sharing serves Malone well at ORAU as he and his peer review team interact globally with scientists for review of research proposals to support funding decisions. His deep interest in data sharing by the scientific community drove his own doctoral dissertation research project: “Data Sharing Practices and Attitudes of Scientists in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).”
The GCC, a political and economic alliance, is made up of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Malone examined the ways these Persian Gulf researchers make available their research data. He administered an online survey and, in early 2018, spent a month in Qatar conducting face-to-face interviews with individual researchers from the GCC countries. He gained access to them mainly because of personal and professional connections developed over the years.
“Culturally, personal connections are very important in the Middle East. Scientists granted interviews mostly if they knew someone I knew, a mutual connection,” Malone said. “It made a difference that I had lived there and understood the culture. It helped ‘break the ice’ and generate more interviews.”
According to his findings, the GCC countries are in the early stages of scientific data sharing. They have not developed extensive policies or protocols that are common in the United States and many other countries, such as how data will be stored or shared for others’ use after a research project is complete.
In his dissertation, Malone’s recommendations for improvement include encouraging university and research organizations to require data management plans with all funded research. He also recommends training of researchers on the benefits of data sharing and investing in a cyberinfrastructure to facilitate data sharing among scientists.
For GCC countries, improvements in data sharing will be beneficial for research collaborations within the broader Middle East region and with countries around the world. For Malone, this experience allows him to interact in a more knowledgeable way with all scientists and researchers who view research data sharing as a way to invest in and shape the progress of science.