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Data Sharing, Data Scientists, and 'Parasites'

While data sharing sounds like a good idea, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine says it could lead to the development of "research parasites."

Dan Longo and Jeffrey Drazen highlight two concerns they say clinical researchers have about data sharing and re-use: insufficient consideration of the data parameters by secondary researchers and the emergence of "research parasites" who use others' data "for their own ends" or "[steal] from the research productivity planned by the data gatherers."

Drazen and Longo suggest that data sharing should work symbiotically, with data scientists pursuing non-obvious next steps and seeking collaborations with and acknowledging the groups that collected the original data.

In a tweet, the University of California, Davis' Jonathan Eisen calls this 'research parasites' notion "deranged."

"The condescension implicit in this statement is deeply troubling," adds Johns Hopkins University's Steven Salzberg at Forbes. "Drazen and Longo are saying, essentially, that only the people who originally collect a data set can truly understand it, and anyone else who wants to take a look is a parasite."

Drazen tells Salzberg that he'd heard the phrase from others — which is why it's in quotes in the editorial — and adds that he is a strong supporter of data sharing. He also says there will be an update in NEJM this week.

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