Scientists are Resistant to Sharing Data Prior to Publication

November 11, 2014

Scientists are well known for sharing – from the research published in countless peer-reviewed journals to reagents through third-party facilitators like Kerafast. But a new study from Michigan State University showed that many don’t share their data with other scientists before publication. Despite calls for collaboration by other researchers, funding organizations and the government, the study, published in Bioscience, found that many scientists are more competitive than cooperative.

The MSU researchers came from a variety of backgrounds, including ecology and history, surveying many ecological scientists. The data indicated found that 92 percent of the scientists don’t share their data prior to publishing, but the MSU researchers explained that this goes against the overall purpose of the work and science as a whole. Not sharing slows progress and delays innovation, they argue.

Conversely, sharing more data may help accelerate research in some ways. And furthermore, sharing data among many researchers will offer scientists from traditionally underrepresented regions or institutions around a chance to get involved.

Many may be hesitant to share their data for fear that their research will be “scooped” and published by another scientist, but the MSU researchers explained that sharing can put everyone on the same field. Scientists shouldn’t worry about being scooped – they should be looking for people to collaborate with.

“We’ll still need to work through the best way to make this the norm,” said MSU researcher Kendra Cheruvelil, Ph.D. “We’re not saying to share data as soon as it’s gathered, and we understand that there’s not a one-size-fits-all policy. Our hope is that scientists will change their practice because they are compelled by the argument that they are ethically obliged to, not because they are forced to share data.”

Genetics as a model

Although data sharing is not widely practiced, one area the MSU team did point to for success was genetics.

“Think of the advances being made in genomics, for example, because of the human genome project and the free-flowing findings and data,” co-author Patricia Soranno explained. “Genomics is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and it’s having an impact on many other fields as well.”

Scientists can use genetics as a model for how to establish rules and etiquette for sharing data. A 2013 article in the journal Nature looks at the beginning of sharing in genetics. Those scientists actually used an early 1990s Web programing-sharing group as their model.

Although many people at the forefront of any field are resistant to sharing and therefore giving up their advantages, with genetics and the Web, it has been shown to be effective route to overall success.