Data sharing is increasingly viewed as an essential step in improving research transparency and reproducibility (Taichman et al, 2016; Vickers, 2006). There has been a lot of discussion on the imperative for data sharing in the biomedical arena, particularly of publically funded research. As a result, there are many disciplines where proposals for data sharing are being discussed.
The topic for discussion at the next Forum (12 February 2016, 3.00pm GMT - more details to follow shortly) is ‘Data sharing’. Data sharing is increasingly viewed as an essential step in improving research transparency and reproducibility. There has been a lot of discussion on the imperative for data sharing in the biomedical arena, particularly of publicly funded research. As a result, there are many disciplines where proposals for data sharing are being discussed.
There is growing interest in sharing of research data, as data sharing is expected to accelerate research and increase accountability. Sharing of data underlying published research is an increasingly important consideration for peer-reviewed journals, and some journals require researchers to state their data sharing policy in published articles. However, the field of clinical trials has been slow to adopt a culture of data transparency.
Following publication of an article, a reader posted a comment raising some questions about the data analysis in the study and the availability of the dataset. We followed-up with the authors and they offered to share the dataset with the reader—the dataset involves genetic information from potentially identifiable patients and as a result the authors indicated that the deposition of the data was not possible due to patient privacy concerns. After several months the reader indicated that he had not received the dataset from the authors and that he had discussed the study with a member of the editorial board who shared the concerns about the reliability of the results reported. We further followed-up with the authors to reiterate the request for the dataset and they made the dataset available to the editors and the reader.
The reader has re-analyzed the datasets provided by the authors and he indicates that his results do not support the conclusions reported in the article. The re-analysis has been evaluated by the editorial board member who previously commented on the article and he agreed that the reliability of the findings in the article is compromised by the results of the re-analysis. We asked the authors to provide a response to the results of the re-analysis and we indicated that, in the light of the concerns raised, it may be necessary to consider retraction of the article. The authors have replied and offered to collaborate with the reader in further analyses, however they suggest that the differences in the results may be due to the different methodologies employed for the analyses and they have not formally agreed to retract the article.
We have offered the reader to submit his re-analysis for publication but he is not interested in doing this; he is however willing for us to make his re-analysis publicly available via a public notification on the published article if we decide that such a notification is necessary.
In the light of the concerns raised about the study, should we post a formal public notification on the article in order to alert readers of the concerns about the validity of the findings? If so, would it be appropriate to proceed with a retraction or given that the authors have not agreed to this, consider instead the publication of an expression of concern?
The Forum suggested that a better course of action would have been if the editor had asked the authors for their comments on the re-analysis, and then submitted the results of the re-analysis and the authors comments to an independent expect to review.
Although the reader is happy to have the re-analysis attached to a commentary, this will not be formally indexed or linked to the original article. The Forum agreed that ideally, the reader should publish the re-analysis. The suggestion was for the editor to try to persuade the reader to publish the results of the re-analysis. Getting the re-analysis published formally is the best option. If the reader still refuses to publish, then the editor should ask the authors to respond to the re-analysis and then ask an independent reviewer to look at all of the data and then publish this as a comment on the article itself.
In the light of the advice provided by the COPE Forum, the editor followed-up with the reader and he has agreed to submit his re-analysis for publication. The editor is awaiting the submission of the piece describing the re-analysis.
Our journal is attempting to encourage the adoption of a uniform standard for the reporting of population genetics data. As part of this, one of the editors of our journal has submitted a proposal requiring authors to submit their data, including raw data, to his own database. While the intention is laudable, there would appear to be a clear conflict of interest.
What can a journal do ethically to require authors to present their data in particular formats and to make their raw data publicly available?
In this situation is there a conflict of interest in the proposition that should preclude the journal adopting this policy?
What suggestions should be made to the editor concerned to resolve the conflict of interest while supporting the aims of standardised data collection and and centralised data storage and analysis.
The Forum was cautious about requiring authors to submit their data to a particular database. Some thought it was a step too far. The majority view was that instead of “requiring” authors to submit their data, it could be helpful to “encourage” them to do so and to provide information about the working of the database, but also to publish a clear conflict of interest statement about the ownership of the database when the policy is announced. The journal can only encourage authors—submission of their data should be optional and it is possible that other databases will be developed in time.
The Forum agreed that consulting with the wider community is a good idea. The editor could discuss this with the editorial board and also with other journals in the same field.
The editor noted that the comments from the Forum were very useful in guiding him to a decision on this case. The resolution was that the review article should be revised to remove any reference to future policy of the journal, and that instead an editorial piece would be written to go alongside the review, putting the case for submission of all population data to a database, such as the one described in the accompanying article. In addition, a letter would be sent to the editors of other journals in the area suggesting that they consider the benefits of such centralised data collection and suggesting that they adopt a common policy of recommending such submission.
These suggestions were passed to the associate editor/author of the review and the journal is awaiting resubmission of the amended review.