Data sharing must become routine argue Richard Smith and Ian Roberts in a recent opinion article published on F1000Research. They acknowledge that researchers are incentivised to publish papers rather than share data, yet it is the data which are most valuable. Data sharing permits replication of analyses to validate research findings and can allow new questions to be answered with existing information. It allows the maximum value to be obtained from every data set, providing the greatest benefit to patients, particularly those who participated in the studies.
Despite these advantages, the authors recognise seven excuses which frequently prevent researchers from making their data accessible to others. Many of these are rooted in anxieties that disclosing data will expose flaws in the original research and analyses, including fears that conclusions won’t be replicable or will be interpreted differently as well as concerns that inconsistencies in the data may be revealed. The fact that researchers are often judged by how much and where they publish may also discourage data sharing. There is the possibility that allowing access to data may provide an opportunity for others to scoop the original researchers or to publish without first having to spend time conducting studies. Other researchers may justify a reluctance to share data by citing patient confidentiality or technical issues.
By reviewing the seven excuses, the authors conclude that each is an invalid reason not to share data. They advocate a change to the current system, which equates research success with publication records, proposing that funders and employers instead incentivise data sharing. For this to work, they acknowledge that the scientific community may need to re-evaluate their opinions and recognise the scientific advances that can result from large, accessible data sets.