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Harassment – a potential unwelcome consequence of transparency?

In general, scientists laud the concept of transparency and data sharing but a recent article “Don’t let transparency ruin science” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Dorothy Bishop highlights that care is needed as “legitimate tools for scholarly exchange can be weaponised” and turned against researchers in the form of harassment and intimidation.

The authors suggest that examination of key areas, including expertise, conflicts of interest, transparency and track record surrounding both the author and critic can help discern between acceptable critique or a potential harassment campaign. They also describe how the process of data sharing and requests can be manipulated and outline “five double-edged tools” – calls for data, calls for retraction, freedom-of-information requests, social media posts and complaints –  which can be engineered and abused.

For example, a public request for data that is already freely available can give the impression that results are being withheld. Therefore, researchers are encouraged to provide clear and precise reasons for the rejection. Additionally, scientists can spend a significant amount of resource dealing with constant demands for extra information and it is not unknown for unscrupulous individuals to use this time-wasting tactic. Furthermore, with the rise of social media as an open source of exchange, the authors highlight the problem with internet trolling and the ability to hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

Obviously, transparency and data sharing does have many beneficial sides, such as, discovering undisclosed conflicts of interest, fraud or manipulation of data. However, the openness of data sharing must be closely watched and researchers should be protected from unforeseen abuse and harassment. The full article can be found here.

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Ryan co-runs Aspire Scientific, a dynamic, forward-thinking medical writing agency. Ryan has a passion for innovation, science and ethical communication.

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