NEW YORK, Feb. 17 ― An upcoming report from the National Academy of Sciences' Board on Life Sciences recommends that authors of scientific papers ― whether working in academia, government, or the commercial sector ― should allow unrestricted access to data and materials that support their published findings.
The report, "Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences," is the product of an initiative that the NAS launched in November 2001 to address growing uncertainty within the life science community regarding issues of data release and access in the post-genomic era.
The widespread use of high-throughput biological techniques, such as automated sequencers and microarrays, has made it impossible to include supporting data within the text of published papers. In addition, few scientific journals maintain a well-defined policy regarding the release of large biological data sets. These concerns came to a head two years ago with Science's decision to publish Celera Genomics' paper on the sequence of the human genome with limited terms of access to the company's data.
Last March, NAS put together a panel of 10 representatives from academia, biotech, pharma, the funding agencies, and the scientific publishing community to identify what, if any, "community standards" exist for making experimental results and research materials available upon publication.
Nearly a year later, the committee is releasing what it considers to be some basic ground rules to guide authors, journals, and funding bodies. At the heart of the report lies a concept termed UPSIDE (the uniform principle for sharing integral data and materials expeditiously), based on the idea "that the publication of scientific information is intended to move science forward." In a nutshell, UPSIDE states that authors of scientific papers are obligated to release their publication-related data and materials so that others can replicate findings as well as build upon the published work. All members of the scientific community have equal responsibility for upholding these standards, according to UPSIDE.
"Basically what we've come up with is some principles and some recommendations ... just to remind everyone that this is how publication started ― the quid pro quo thing ― you publish your information, you acknowledge that you've done this, but you put that information out there," said committee member Mary Waltham, former president and publisher for Nature, who currently runs her own consulting firm. "That system has really worked for a long time," said panelist Sean Eddy, a bioinformaticist at Washington University. "I think that most people know that, but there's been a temptation ― especially with these big data sets ― to backslide on that because you can't get the datasets into the printed publication, so it lets people find loopholes."
Eddy noted that any compliance with the report's recommendations would be purely voluntary ― "There's no enforceability in something like this," he said ― but added that one of the intended effects of the report is more transparency in journal policies. "The journal editors really didn't have consistent policies. They'd like consistent policies, but they didn't really know what the community wanted. ...So I think we'll see more clarity in the journal policies as the result of this."