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Data sharing is a requirement in the science community. Access to data and methods is necessary for other researchers to verify research and to build on it. Science funding agencies and science journals require authors of peer-reviewed papers to share any supplemental information (raw data, statistical methods or source code) necessary to audit or reproduce published research.

Data and methods may be requested from an author years after publication. In order to encourage data sharing and prevent the loss or corruption of data, funding agencies and journals established policies on data archiving. Access to publicly archived data is a recent development in the history of science made possible by technological advances in communications and information technology.

Despite policies on data sharing and archiving, data withholding still happens. Authors may fail to archive data or they only archive a portion of the data. Failure to archive data alone is not data withholding. When a researcher requests additional information, an author sometimes refuses to provide it. When authors withhold data like this, they run the risk of losing the trust of the science community.[1]

U.S. government policies[]

Federal law[]

On August 9, 2007, President Bush signed the "America COMPETES Act" (or the "America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act") requiring government researchers to make their data and methods available to other agencies, policymakers and the public. See Section 1009. [2]

NIH data sharing policy[]

‘The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grants Policy Statement defines “data” as “recorded information, regardless of the form or medium on which it may be recorded, and includes writings, films, sound recordings, pictorial reproductions, drawings, designs, or other graphic representations, procedural manuals, forms, diagrams, work flow charts, equipment descriptions, data files, data processing or computer programs (software), statistical records, and other research data.”’

Council on Governamental Relations[3]

The NIH Final Statement of Sharing of Research Data says:

‘NIH reaffirms its support for the concept of data sharing. We believe that data sharing is essential for expedited translation of research results into knowledge, products, and procedures to improve human health. The NIH endorses the sharing of final research data to serve these and other important scientific goals. The NIH expects and supports the timely release and sharing of final research data from NIH-supported studies for use by other researchers.

‘NIH recognizes that the investigators who collect the data have a legitimate interest in benefiting from their investment of time and effort. We have therefore revised our definition of “the timely release and sharing” to be no later than the acceptance for publication of the main findings from the final data set. NIH continues to expect that the initial investigators may benefit from first and continuing use but not from prolonged exclusive use.’

NSF Policy from Grant General Conditions[]

36. Sharing of Findings, Data, and Other Research Products

a. NSF …expects investigators to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of the work. It also encourages awardees to share software and inventions or otherwise act to make the innovations they embody widely useful and usable.

b. Adjustments and, where essential, exceptions may be allowed to safeguard the rights of individuals and subjects, the validity of results, or the integrity of collections or to accommodate legitimate interests of investigators.

National Science Foundation: Grant General Conditions (GC-1)”, April 1, 2001 (p. 17).

Journal policies[]


After publication, readers who encounter a persistent refusal by the authors to comply with these guidelines should contact the chief editor of the Nature journal concerned, with “materials complaint” and publication reference of the article as part of the subject line. In cases where editors are unable to resolve a complaint, the journal reserves the right to refer the correspondence to the author's funding institution and/or to publish a statement of formal correction, linked to the publication, that readers have been unable to obtain necessary materials or reagents to replicate the findings.

Availability of Data and Materials: The Policy of Nature Magazine”.


Materials sharing — After publication, all reasonable requests for materials must be fulfilled. A charge for time and materials involved in the transfer may be made. Science must be informed of any restrictions on sharing of materials [Materials Transfer Agreements or patents, for example] applying to materials used in the reported research. Any such restrictions should be indicated in the cover letter at the time of submission, and each individual author will be asked to reaffirm this on the Conditions of Acceptance forms that he or she executes at the time the final version of the manuscript is submitted. The nature of the restrictions should be noted in the paper. Unreasonable restrictions may preclude publication.

Office of Research Integrity[]

Allegations of misconduct in medical research carry severe consequences. The United States Department of Health and Human Services established an office to oversee investigations of allegations of misconduct, including data withholding. The website defines the mission:

“The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) at about 4,000 institutions worldwide. ORI monitors institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research (RCR) through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities.”

Ideals in data sharing[]

Some research organizations feel particularly strongly about data sharing. Stanford University's WaveLab has a philosophy about reproducible research and disclosing all algorithms and source code necessary to reproduce the research. In a paper titled "WaveLab and Reproducible Research," the authors describe some of the problems they encountered in trying to reproduce their own research after a period of time. In many cases, it was so difficult they gave up the effort. These experiences are what convinced them of the importance of disclosing source code.[5] The philosophy is described:

The idea is: An article about computational science in a scientific publication is not the scholarship itself, it is merely advertising of the scholarship. The actual scholarship is the complete software development environment and the complete set of instructions which generated the figures.[6]

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access is a group of organizations that support open access to government sponsored research. he group has expressed a "Statement of Principles" explaining why they believe open access is important. [7] They also list a number of international public access policies. [8]

International policies[]

  • Australia [1]
  • Austria [2]
  • Europe - Commission of European Communities [3]
  • Germany [4]
  • United Kingdom [5]

Data sharing problems[]

Academic genetics[]

Withholding of data has become so commonplace in academic genetics that researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital published a journal article on the subject. The study found that “Because they were denied access to data, 28% of geneticists reported that they had been unable to confirm published research.”[9]

Scientists in training[]

A study of scientists in training indicated many had already experienced data withholding.[10] This study has given rise to the fear the future generation of scientists will not abide by the established practices.


  1. Publication and Openness,” chapter from “On Being A Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research”, National Academy of Sciences.
  2. "America COMPETES Act
  3. Access to and retention of research data: Rights and responsibilities”, p. 5. Council on Governmental Relations, March 2006.
  4. NIH Data Sharing Policy.”
  5. WaveLab and Reproducible Research by Jonathan B. Buckheit and David L. Donoho
  6. WaveLab850 website
  7. [ The Alliance for Taxpayer Access website
  8. [ Worldwide momentum for public access to publicly funded research
  9. Data withholding in academic genetics: evidence from a national survey”, EG Campbell et al.
  10. Data withholding and the next generation of scientists: results of a national survey” in Acad Med. 2006 Feb; 81 (2):128–36 16436573


Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data (1997)’ by Committee on Issues in the Transborder Flow of Scientific Data, National Research Council discusses the international exchange of data in the natural sciences.

External links[]

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