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Review: Scientists Threatened by Demands to Share Data: the open data movement is polarizing the scientific community

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Issue: 
Spring 2014

Review by Kristin Vanderbilt (SEV)

Scientists Threatened by Demands to Share Data:  the open data movement is polarizing the scientific community (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/10/scientists-threatenedbydemandstosharedata.html;
accessed on 5/21/2014)

The title of this short article promised drama but ultimately did not demonstrate that data sharing is causing a schism in the scientific community.  Far from it. 

In May 2012, the Obama Administration adopted open access policies that require data collected by federal agencies to be publicly accessible.    While some scientists applaud this change and believe that sharing information promotes scientific discovery, others fear that data sharing will lead to the discovery of errors in the data and theft of future research ideas.   This short article by science writer Victoria Schlesinger notes that the latter fears are sometimes realized.   Errors have been found and research ideas have been published without the input of the researcher who collected the original data.   A graduate student working in Peru, for instance, videotaped a new species of spider and shared his finding via Twitter almost immediately, thereby losing (he felt) an opportunity to publish in a top journal because someone beat him to it.  To counter this threat of being “scooped”, ways to increase the rewards for data sharing are being sought.   The use of DOIs to make data citeable is noted, as are organizations that help scientists with the time-consuming chore of cleaning up and archiving data.

I found this article while looking for references on data sharing.  Despite its title, the author presents little evidence that data sharing is “polarizing the scientific community.”  Instead the author quotes several scientists who are supportive of open science in order to remain relevant and spur scientific discovery.   Even the grad student who was “scooped”.