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NIH bid to tackle reproducibility crisis – is data sharing the answer?


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • NIH policy requiring all grant applications to include a data management and sharing plan comes into effect in January 2023.
  • The policy sets to improve reproducibility in biomedical research, reduce wasted resources, and help regain public trust in science, but some researchers worry about the associated logistical challenges.

As of 25 January 2023, all National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications for projects that collect scientific data must include a data management and sharing plan, with a view to making data publicly available. The funder will require that all scientific data needed to validate and replicate study findings are shared using a reputable repository, regardless of whether they are used to support journal publications. The policy, which is largely based on open science principles, aims to tackle the reproducibility crisis, which has reportedly cost US public funding bodies between $10 and $50 billion.

In a recent News in Focus article, published in Nature, the Acting Associate Director for Science Policy at the NIH, Dr Lyric Jorgenson, describes irreproducible studies as a waste of taxpayers’ money and damaging to public trust in science.

“We want to make sure that we’re making good on the nation’s investment and fostering transparency and accountability in research.”

– Dr Lyric Jorgenson

Professor Joseph Ross, a health policy researcher at Yale School of Medicine, believes that the policy marks a significant shift towards an open science research culture that will be felt much further afield than the US, and will likely encourage similar changes in smaller funding bodies.

Researchers who spoke to Nature shared concerns that the policy could worsen existing inequities in science funding and add to the already exhausted workload of early-career researchers. Whilst Dr Jorgenson recognised the mandate might warrant more time allocation to data organisation, she trusts that this will be offset by the merits of regained public trust.

Largely in support of the underpinning open science principles, Prof. Ross calls upon the NIH to ensure transparent definitions and guidance are in place to clarify how the funder will grant resources to offset the costs of compliance with the new policy.

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What do you think – is data sharing the answer to tackling the reproducibility crisis?

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