Most researchers are not required to share data with others as soon as the data are generated, although a few disciplines have adopted this standard to speed the pace of research. A period of confidentiality allows researchers to check the accuracy of their data and draw conclusions.
However, when a scientific paper or book is published, other researchers must have access to the data and research materials needed to support the conclusions stated in the publication if they are to verify and build on that research. Many research institutions, funding agencies, and scientific journals have policies that require the sharing of data and unique research materials. Given the expectation that data will be accessible, researchers who refuse to share the evidentiary basis behind their conclusions, or the materials needed to replicate published experiments, fail to maintain the standards of science.
In some cases, research data or materials may be too voluminous, unwieldy, or costly to share quickly and without expense. Nevertheless, researchers have a responsibility to devise ways to share their data and materials in the best ways possible. For example, centralized facilities or collaborative efforts can provide a cost-effective way of providing research materials or information from large databases. Examples include repositories established to maintain and distribute astronomical images, protein sequences, archaeological data, cell lines, reagents, and transgenic animals.
New issues in the treatment and sharing of data continue to arise as scientific disciplines evolve and new technologies appear. Some forms of data undergo extensive analysis before being recorded; consequently, sharing those data can require sharing the software and sometimes the hardware used to analyze them. Because digital technologies are rapidly changing, some data stored electronically may be inaccessible in a few years unless provisions are made to transport the data from one platform to another. New forms of publication are challenging traditional practices associated with publication and the evaluation of scholarly work.