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Bionet controversial topic #6: on the obligation to share usefulresearch data

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  • Bionet controversial topic #6: on the obligation to share usefulresearch data

    There are many reasons to share biomedical research data. Sharing data
    reinforces open scientific inquiry, encourages diversity of analysis and
    opinion, promotes new research, makes possible the testing of new or
    alternative hypotheses and methods of analysis, supports studies on data
    collection methods and measurement, facilitates the education of new
    researchers, enables the exploration of topics not envisioned by the
    initial investigators, and permits the creation of new data sets when data
    from multiple sources are combined. From an international point of view,
    data sharing favour international collaborations and allow researchers from
    less developed countries to leverage on the intellectual abilities without
    being impaired by the lack of equipment required for data collection. With
    reference to Europe it clearly promotes the creation of the European
    Research Area so dear to the European Commission.

    Although most research policy makers agree with these statements, still
    most of the research data produced with taxpayers' money are not widely
    available. When data sharing is left to the voluntary initiative of the
    single researcher there are various reasons that make difficult data
    sharing. Research data are seen as a competitive advantage over other
    research groups, they may provide business opportunities, they can be
    exchanged with other favours, etc. In addition sharing data takes time and
    dedication, and the rewards tend asymptotically to zero. Frequently
    sharing data also costs money, costs that are difficult to motivate to our
    institutions. Thus, I guess we should not be surprised if research data are
    not shared so frequently.

    Would it be better if research-founding agencies, impose that all data
    produced with their money are made public?

    Do not think this is a weird idea. I recently read that in 1998 the USA
    Congress discussed an amendment usually known as the Shelby Amendment,
    which proposed to make data from federally founded academic research
    available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. I understand
    that the amendment's implementation narrowed very much the original
    intention, but still the direction seems very much the same. More
    recently, the USA National Institutes of Health (NIH) March 1 2002
    requested comments from the research community on its proposed data sharing
    guidance. NIH policy will require all applicants for research awards to
    submit a data-sharing plan with their applications. The agency notes that
    such policy ensures openness in science, strengthens scientific inquiry and
    criticism, promotes new research or alternative approaches, and even
    improves efficiency in spending limited research funds (e.g., by
    eliminating duplication of effort in data collection).

    In Europe there are rumours that the advisory groups of the European
    Commission are considering similar directions.

    How should we react to these impositions? Should we lobby against them?
    Even if we agree with the idea of sharing research data we may not like
    that we are forced to do so.

    Or should we embrace these constraints, as they are for the good of science?

    Other related questions: would it be legitimate to ask for an access fee,
    so to recover the costs of keep the data repositories up and running?
    Would this sharing prevent the industrial-commercial use, through
    copyrights, patents, or other mechanisms to protect the intellectual
    property rights? Who should maintain the data repositories running, and
    how long the data should be kept available?

    The paper is open for discussion!



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