Follow the Data

A data driven blog

Open access but not open data?

Through Mailund on the Internet, I found a depressing report in PLoS ONE: Empirical Study of Data Sharing by Authors Publishing in PLoS Journals. The authors wanted to check whether researchers who publish in Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals, which are devoted to the principle of open access to scientific articles and data, really abide by those principles themselves.

Thus, they selected ten papers published in either of two PLoS journals (PLoS Medicine and PLoS Clinical Trials), and contacted the investigators behind them to ask for the data that the study was based on. Although it is an explicit requirement from PLoS that data from all studies must be shared, only one (!) of the investigators sent the data to the authors. Four investigators responded and refused to share the data even after they had been reminded of PLoS policy, three didn’t respond, two email addresses were invalid and one investigator requested further details.

Why this miserable reply rate, which could be expected from scientists in general, but not from people who publish in PLoS? Is the reason that those who publish in PLoS Medicine and PLoS Clinical Trials just see it as a way to get their research out there without bothering to keep their part of the open-access deal?

Or could it be a case of poor attitude towards students? The authors’ stated reason for requesting the data, in all cases, was “out of personal interest in the topic and the need for original data for master’s level coursework.” Maybe the important scientists behind the articles felt that they did not have to reply to mere master’s students?

I wonder how breaches of this kind should be handled. Should PLoS (or several different publishers) keep a “black list of data non-sharers”? It is of course difficult to go after this kind of thing.

At a minimum, the scientists who did not reply should be forced to read the recent Nature Special on data sharing!


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