Nature special issue on scientific data sharing

The 9 September 2009 issue of Nature contains a series of articles on the current state of scientific data sharing. It includes an editorial on the "shameful" neglect of data sharing in the scientific research community, a feature story on "Empty Archives" investigating why data repositories aren't being used even after the technical infrastructure is in place, and two opinion papers, one on prepublication data sharing and one on postpublication data sharing.

Selected quotes from the various articles include:

Data's shameful neglect

Research cannot flourish if data are not preserved and made accessible. All concerned must act accordingly.

More and more often these days, a research project's success is measured not just by the publications it produces, but also by the data it makes available to the wider community. Pioneering archives such as GenBank have demonstrated just how powerful such legacy data sets can be for generating new discoveries ….

All but a handful of disciplines still lack the technical, institutional and cultural frameworks required to support such open data access— leading to a scandalous shortfall in the sharing of data by researchers. Research funding agencies need to recognize that preservation of and access to digital data are central to their mission, and need to be supported accordingly.

Data sharing: Empty archives

Most researchers agree that open access to data is the scientific ideal, so what is stopping it happening? Bryn Nelson investigates why many researchers choose not to share.

All too many observations lie isolated and forgotten on personal hard drives and CDs, trapped by technical, legal and cultural barriers — a problem that open-data advocates are only just beginning to solve.

Prepublication data sharing

Rapid release of prepublication data has served the field of genomics well. Attendees at a workshop in Toronto recommend extending the practice to other biological data sets.

One of the lessons from the Human Genome Project (HGP) was the recognition that making data broadly available prior to publication can be profoundly valuable to the scientific enterprise and lead to public benefits. This is particularly the case when there is a community of scientists that can productively use the data quickly — beyond what the data producers could do themselves in a similar time period, and sometimes for scientific purposes outside the original goals of the project.

Post-publication sharing of data and tools

Despite existing guidelines on access to data and bioresources, good practice is not widespread. A meeting of mouse researchers in Rome proposes ways to promote a culture of sharing.