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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
ing, analyzing, and disseminating data can establish tight connections between natural phenomena and representations of those phenomena. Digital technologies also can allow for the widespread dissemination of data and research results to potential reviewers and data users. The emergence and growth of accessible databases such as GenBank and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey illustrate these opportunities in widely disparate disciplines.20 (Box 2-3 on clinical research in this chapter describes another example.) However, it can be difficult to verify the integrity of results based on large datasets that have undergone substantial processing.
In cases where research results or underlying data are distributed electronically without undergoing peer review, researchers may be able to find other ways to submit them to collective evaluation. For example, they may be able to submit data to informal review by colleagues or open review by users of electronic documents. To advance science, in some cases it may be desirable to disseminate data and conclusions in ways other than through peer-reviewed publications. Electronic technologies are greatly enhancing this dissemination.
However, widespread dissemination of research results and underlying data that have not been vetted through the social mechanisms characteristic of research poses the risk that the conclusions drawn from available data can be distorted. Furthermore, it can be difficult for a community to assess the validity of evaluations that are outside traditional peer review processes. And academic disciplines and institutions are just beginning to develop methods for evaluating and rewarding researchers for the production of results that have not undergone peer review or have undergone only informal review.21
Fields of research may settle on methods that enhance the quality of research without following all the steps of a formal review process. For example, a research community may structure itself to examine and verify research procedures and data, even though the data are not publicly accessible, as happens in high-energy physics. Another example is research in economics, where authors often work on papers for extended periods, presenting preliminary version of their papers (and data) at conferences and receiving official critiques from their colleagues prior to submitting a paper for publication.
In other cases, the accuracy of data may be continuously reviewed as they are incorporated into ongoing research in such a way that their accuracy is checked; for example, this is one of the quality control mechanisms used with