Scientists Have a Sharing Problem

Dec 15th Maggie Puniewska posted an article in the Atlantic Magazine summarizing the obstacles preventing researchers from sharing their data.

The article asks if “science has traditionally been a field that prizes collaboration […] then why [are] so many scientists stingy with their information.”

Puniewska outlines the most cited reasons scientists reframe from sharing their data.

The culture of innovation breeds fierce competition, and those on the brink of making a groundbreaking discovery want to be the first to publish their results and receive credit for their ideas.

[I]f sharing data paves the way for an expert to build upon or dispute other scientists’ results in a revolutionary way, it’s easy to see why some might choose to withhold.

Yet fear of being scooped alone does not explain the entirety of the problem.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association […] found that among geneticists, 45 percent [of study participants] withheld data because it costs too much to send the materials to the scientists who had requested them.

In the same study, 80 percent of respondents also reported that the effort required to produce their data prevented them from sending it to other researchers who asked for it.

The scarcity of freely available data as Puniewska points out “has produced documented consequences.”

In his 2002 study, David Blumenthal [physician and president of the Commonwealth Fund] and colleagues found that 28 percent of those surveyed were unable to replicate research as a direct result of another scientist’s refusal to share, 24 percent had a publication significantly delayed, and 21 percent had to abandon a research interest altogether.

Solving this problem could accelerate scientific progress but changing norms will take time. Blumenthal states to make change happen students should be taught transparency “because a young scientist’s early approach to sharing will likely become their approach for life.”

The full article can be found here.