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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
the identification of a problem that is to be examined in a public forum on the Internet. Researchers from different disciplines, organizations, and countries then can all contribute to solving the problem, with the open sharing of data and ideas that might bear on that problem. An open-knowledge environment allows people with many different backgrounds and viewpoints to interact in a relatively unstructured way while moving toward a common objective. The free flow of information speeds progress, while the global reach of the Internet greatly expands the number and breadth of researchers who can contribute to a project. Another approach to sharing is open-notebook science.5 Similarly, blogs, wikis, and other forms of electronic interaction are tools that enable collaborative work on common problems in a generally open research environment.
In the context of this report, sharing research data enhances the data’s integrity by allowing other researchers to scrutinize and verify them (as described in the Chapter 2). Sharing also increases the likelihood that data will be preserved for long-term uses, although the stewardship of data requires more than that the data be accessible (as described in the Chapter 4). Thus, the three themes of this report—integrity, accessibility, and stewardship—are intertwined.
BARRIERS TO SHARING DATA
Despite the many benefits to be gained by the sharing of research data and results, even a cursory survey of research activity reveals many circumstances in which access to data is limited.
Because researchers require time to verify data, analyze their data, and derive research conclusions, individual researchers generally are not expected to make all their data public immediately. Individual researchers need latitude to follow hunches, experiment with methods, explore conjectures, and make mistakes. New tools for automatically assessing the quality of data and sharing them with others can facilitate the rapid sharing of digital data, although verifying the reliability of these tools presents its own set of challenges.
Once a research result is published, the norms of science—and often the terms of the research grant or contract—call for the supporting data to be accessible. Researchers may nevertheless try to keep the data private, perhaps to derive additional results without competition from others, for the exclusive use of a student or postdoctoral fellow whose career would be advanced by generating further papers, or just to avoid the effort to put the data in usable form for others. In the worst cases, they may retain data to hide acts of research misconduct or to conceal defects in the dataset.
The norms of a research community may allow keeping data private for a certain period. These norms can be formalized through the terms of a grant
Katherine Sanderson. 2008. “Data on display.” Nature. 455:273.