Recommendation 5: All researchers should make research data, methods, and other information integral to their publicly reported results publicly accessible in a timely manner to allow verification of published findings and to enable other researchers to build on published results, except in unusual cases in which there are compelling reasons for not releasing data. In these cases, researchers should explain in a publicly accessible manner why the data are being withheld from release.
Making data available does not necessarily mean providing them at no cost. The next chapter discusses the need for research projects to develop plans for the management and sharing of data from the initial stages of a research program. Chapter 4 also describes the evolving infrastructure for providing data access and stewardship, whose components include institutional and disciplinary repositories.
Fulfilling this recommendation also requires that researchers be familiar with any possible constraints on the release of data. Although this information is usually known to researchers and their managers from the outset of a research project, agreements may be informal, may be understood differently by different parties (such as principal investigators and graduate students), or may change during the course of a research project. Requiring that researchers clarify and agree to these arrangements places the responsibility on researchers to oversee the accessibility of research data and to decide whether to participate in research where data accessibility is limited. Researchers who are considering becoming involved in a project where data accessibility is restricted need to ask themselves whether the benefits of participating in that project outweigh the benefits of transparency in generating and disseminating data.
Research thrives under conditions where data are available to others. If data are not available, there should be a clear and public reason why those data are being withheld from dissemination. Indeed, justifications for not making data available should be understood by the researcher, sponsor, and institution. Dissemination of the reasons why data are being withheld could be published with journal articles, posted on Web sites, stated in the publicly accessible award statements of research sponsors or research institutions, or made available by some other means. The important point is that the reasons should be publicly available so that others can review and comment on the grounds for withholding data.
As discussed in the following section, the committee believes that research fields, research sponsors, research institutions, and journals have considerable ability to set appropriate standards and expectations regarding data access and sharing, and to develop the necessary incentives. Some are taking leadership roles in setting standards and instituting incentives. The committee believes that continued efforts taken by these stakeholders can create an environment in which the Data Access and Sharing Principle is widely followed in the research enterprise, and in which a bureaucratic framework of regulations and enforcement will not need to be imposed.