… the goal of this blog is to capture my notes as I flail around learning everything I can about data sharing and re-use, with the short-term goal of writing my biomedical informatics doctoral dissertation literature review. Taking notes here out in the open in case it interests anyone else along the way.
In psychology there is little tradition of making the data on which researchers base their statistical analyses freely available to others after publication. This makes it difficult for anyone to independently reanalyse research results, and prevents small data sets from being combined for meta-analysis, or large ones mined for fresh insights or perspectives.
Psychologists need to rethink their reluctance to share data.
Heather notes that the article only glances off the really interesting question:
Does the concept of sharing data generate unnecessary angst? Does it actually generate angst, or is it mostly laziness or selfishness or fear? If angst, is the angst indeed unwarranted? To what extent does sharing data in fact lead to additional stresses for authors?
I’d love to see research into the reasons why scientists do not share data, and whether their reasons are upheld by events. This knowledge would allow us to address the underlying issues deterring authors from making their data available, which is bound to be more effective for long-term goals than simply relying on requirements from funding agencies and journals.
The article touches on what I think is the most important reason for reluctance to share:
Like many researchers in other disciplines, psychologists fear that if different analytical approaches are brought to bear on their data, different conclusions could be drawn, casting doubt on their competence — or even their integrity.
In my field (biomed), it’s not so much fear of being found out in a mistake or a lie (though I bet a fair proportion are worried about being caught in “normal misbehaviour”). The real killer is ego: what if someone else gets there first? The field has become so over-competitive that many (I’d say most) researchers seek to maximize any edge they can get. Everyone seems to think their Nobel is just around the corner, and they can’t bear the idea of someone else getting it — so they’re willing to let data go underutilized rather than risk having to share credit (or being done out of it).
I think Heather is right about addressing underlying issues, but it does occur to me that the same researchers who won’t share their data may also be unlikely to cooperate with research into the reasons why: those reasons frequently do not reflect well on individuals or the community. In the short term, mandates are probably the only effective mechanism for getting widespread adoption of open access and open data practices over the initial hump of apathy, fear of change, selfishness, laziness and so on. In the long term, I hope that as the mandates take effect, the increased efficiency of open science — of collaboration over competition — will become apparent, and the nature of the scientific community will change in an ever more open direction.