Data Sharing, When It Might Really Matter

23 January 2008 at 5:41 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Social scientists aren’t the only ones reluctant to share raw data. Medical researchers are equally touchy about it, even when granting other people access to the data could lead to real breakthroughs. Biostatistician Andrew Vickers writes in yesterday’s Times about his experiences trying to replicate or extend cancer studies:

Not long ago, I asked a respected cancer researcher if he could send me raw data from a trial he had recently published. He refused. Sharing data would make the study team members “uncomfortable,” he said, as I might use this to “cast doubt” on their results. . . .

[W]e wrote to [another research team] and asked whether they would share their data. They refused on the grounds that they might consider a similar analysis at some point in the future. But years have passed, no such analyses have been forthcoming and few patients are benefiting from what could be a very effective drug. . . .

When a colleague and I wanted to analyze the data from a completed breast cancer trial, merely getting permission to speak to the study’s organizing committee required a one-hour phone call with the scientist in charge of the agenda. Only after another one-hour call with the committee itself were we allowed to submit a formal proposal — to which we received no response. . . .

Researchers give all kinds of reasons for refusing to share — concerns about patient confidentiality, appropriate research methods, and so on — but, Vickers concludes, “the real issue here has more to do with status and career than with any loftier considerations. Scientists don’t want to be scooped by their own data, or have someone else challenge their conclusions with a new analysis.”

Thanks to Research on Innovation blog for the lead.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve Phelan  |  23 January 2008 at 7:46 pm

    The scary part is that the strength of the scientific method rests on replication. Eschewing replication opens science to fraud and other abuses.

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