The Changing Nature of Scientific Sharing and Withholding in Academic Life Sciences Research: Trends From National Surveys in 2000 and 2013

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Abstract

Purpose

Since 2000, federal funders and many journals have established policies requiring more open sharing of data and materials post-publication, primarily through online supplements and third-party repositories. This study examined changes in sharing and withholding practices among academic life scientists, particularly geneticists, between 2000 and 2013.

Method

In 2000 and 2013, the authors surveyed separate samples of 3,000 academic life scientists at the 100 U.S. universities receiving the most National Institutes of Health funding. Respondents were asked to estimate the number of requests for information, data, and materials they made to and received from other academic researchers in the past three years. They were also asked about potential consequences of sharing and withholding.

Results

Response rates were 63.9% (1,849/2,893) in 2000 and 40.8% (1,165/2,853) in 2013. Proportions of faculty in 2000 and 2013 who received, denied, made, or were denied at least one request were not statistically different. However, the total volume of requests received from or made to other scientists dropped substantially (19.4 received in 2000 versus 10.8 in 2013, P < .001; 8.4 made in 2000 versus 6.6 in 2013, P < .001). Faculty in 2013 also made an average of 8.4 requests to third-party repositories. Researchers in 2013 were less likely to report sharing resulted in new research or collaborations.

Conclusions

The results show a dramatic shift in sharing mechanisms, away from a peer-to-peer sharing model toward one based on central repositories. This may increase efficiency, but collaborations may suffer if personal communication among scientists is deemphasized.

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