The essential nature of sharing in science

Science and Engineering Ethics 16 (4):783-799 (2010)
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Advances in science are the combined result of the efforts of a great many scientists, and in many cases, their willingness to share the products of their research. These products include data sets, both small and large, and unique research resources not commercially available, such as cell lines and software programs. The sharing of these resources enhances both the scope and the depth of research, while making more efficient use of time and money. However, sharing is not without costs, many of which are borne by the individual who develops the research resource. Sharing, for example, reduces the uniqueness of the resources available to a scientist, potentially influencing the originator’s perceived productivity and ultimately his or her competitiveness for jobs, promotions, and grants. Nevertheless, for most researchers—particularly those using public funds—sharing is no longer optional but must be considered an obligation to science, the funding agency, and ultimately society at large. Most funding agencies, journals, and professional societies now require a researcher who has published work involving a unique resource to make that resource available to other investigators. Changes could be implemented to mitigate some of the costs. The creator of the resource could explore the possibility of collaborating with those who request it. In addition, institutions that employ and fund researchers could change their policies and practices to make sharing a more attractive and viable option. For example, when evaluating an individual’s productivity, institutions could provide credit for the impact a researcher has had on their field through the provision of their unique resources to other investigators, regardless of whether that impact is reflected in the researcher’s list of publications. In addition, increased funding for the development and maintenance of user-friendly public repositories for data and research resources would also help to reduce barriers to sharing by minimizing the time, effort, and funding needed by individual investigators to comply with requests for their unique resource. Indeed, sharing is an imperative, but it is also essential to find ways to protect for both the original owner of the resource and those wishing to share it



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