NAS president calls for data sharing

Science has a one-page editorial by National Academy of Science President Ralph Cicerone. He alludes to the climate change scandals of the last few months, and points to a significant loss of public confidence in science as a result:

In the wake of the [University of East Anglia] controversy, I have been contacted by many U.S. and world leaders in science, business, and government. Their assessments and those from various editorials, added to results from scattered public opinion polls, suggest that public opinion has moved toward the view that scientists often try to suppress alternative hypotheses and ideas and that scientists will withhold data and try to manipulate some aspects of peer review to prevent dissent. This view reflects the fragile nature of trust between science and society, demonstrating that the perceived misbehavior of even a few scientists can diminish the credibility of science as a whole.

Cicerone argues that scientists need to shape up. The only way to maintain confidence in the scientific enterprise is to establish “clarity and transparency”:

Clarity and transparency must be reinforced to build and maintain trustinternal and externalin science. Scientists are taught to describe experiments, data, and calculations fully so that other scientists can replicate the research. Last year, the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine put forth a framework for dealing with research data,* emphasizing that "Research data, methods and other information integral to publicly reported results should be publicly accessible." Some journals have established policies that require the sharing of materials and data. However, post-publication complaints regarding data sharing persist. Despite many efforts, the scientific community has failed to uniformly integrate these standards into their practices.

Access to data may not be enough. In the case of climate research, open access to models and software is equally important – otherwise, results are not replicable. This means greater support must be given from grant agencies for public accessibility and publication of research methods, including software archives.

It also means that data sharing policies must have some teeth in them. At a minimum, funding renewal should be contingent on meeting the guidelines for data sharing proposed in grant applications. In 2010, there is no reason in the world why these cannot be downloaded freely from third parties, so that the scientists do not feel “harassed” by requests for information.

References:

Cicerone RJ. 2010. Ensuring integrity in science. Science 327:624. doi:10.1126/science.1187612