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2.2 Transparency, accountability, and profitability

As we explained in the previous section, research data is often “proprietary.” Meanwhile, timely sharing of research data in many cases is a critical need for ensuring and advancing public security, health, and welfare. Faced with this conflict, federal regulators and the research community have engaged in ongoing debates about making data that’s generated from federally funded research available to the public (NRC, 2002). Such debates became more intensified after the Shelby Amendment, which requires that “all data produced under a [federally funded] award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]” (Fischer, 2013). The Shelby Amendment caused repercussion in the research community, as many researchers worried about its potential negative impacts, such as impingement on privacy, political interference with academic freedom, and intellectual property theft (NRC, 2002). On the other hand, supporters of the Amendment argued that making federally funded research data available would enable independent verification of the research findings and increase the transparency of publicly funded research. In fact, both sides of the debate around the Shelby Amendment agreed that the public—whose tax dollars ultimately pay for federally funded research—deserves access to the research results, including research data; the disagreement focused on the most appropriate mechanisms for sharing data with the public (NRC, 2002).

As these debates indicate, sharing research data is not merely a technical issue. The scope and process of sharing involve complex legal, economic, political, and ethical issues. In principle, public access to research data enhances the transparency and accountability of researchers who receive federal funds; however, a “one size fits all” approach might create unintended consequences with regard to confidentiality, academic freedom, and the commercial values the research findings. Once again, the sharing of research data takes place not in a vacuum but in a complex and diverse ecosystem of people, technology, institutions, and relationships.


2.3 Data sharing policies from funding agencies and journals

Besides relevant laws and institutional policies, many funding agencies and academic journals have their own policies for sharing research data. It is important to be familiar with and follow these policies if you seek funding from or try to publish with one of these agencies.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires that “investigators are expected to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of work under NSF grants.” NSF also requires all grant proposals to include a “data management plan” that describes “how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results.” Each individual NSF directorate specifies the particular format of the data management plan submitted to that directorate. To learn more, go to the NSF Engineering Directorate’s Guidelines for Data Management Plan.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a webpage for its Data Sharing Policy, which contains links to various policy documents regarding sharing of data resulted from research supported by NIH. The NIH Data Sharing Policy and Implementation Guidance provides details of the Institutes’ policy statement on data sharing and its implementation.

Many academic journals include their data sharing policies in their “information to authors” section. In particular, Nature includes in its “Policies” a page on “Availability of data, material and methods.” Science Magazine’s “editorial policies” page has a section on “Data and Materials Availability after Publication.”


Data Sharing Policies in Your Discipline

What are the primary grant agencies that fund research in your discipline? What are the top five journals with which you plan to publish your work? Do a search of the data sharing policies for these grant agencies and journals. How do these data sharing policies differ from one other?