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News from the National Academies

Date:  July 22, 2009

Contacts:  Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer

Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Report Offers Principles for Maintaining the Integrity

And Accessibility of Research Data

 

WASHINGTON -- Though digital technologies and high-speed communications have significantly expanded the capabilities of scientists -- allowing them to analyze and share vast amounts of data -- these technologies are also raising difficult questions for researchers, institutions, and journals.  Because digital data can be manipulated more easily than other forms, they are particularly susceptible to distortion.  Questions about how to maintain the data generated, who should have access, and who pays to store and maintain them can be controversial.

 

Maintaining the integrity and accessibility of research data in a rapidly evolving digital age will take the collective efforts of universities and other research institutions, journals, agencies, and individual scientists, says a new report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, which recommends principles to guide these stakeholders in generating, sharing, and maintaining scientific data. 

 

Research institutions need to ensure that every investigator receives appropriate training in conducting research and managing data responsibly, the report says.  And these institutions, along with professional societies, journals, and research sponsors, should develop and disseminate standards for ensuring the integrity of research data and update specific data-management guidelines to account for new technologies.  After an investigation by the Journal of Cell Biology revealed that a significant number of images submitted to them had been inappropriately manipulated, for example, the journal issued guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable ways to alter images.  Ultimately, though, researchers themselves are responsible for ensuring the integrity of their research data, said the committee that wrote the report.

 

The report recommends that researchers -- both publicly and privately funded -- make the data and methods underlying their reported results public in a timely manner, except in unusual cases where there is a compelling reason not to do so, such as concern about national security or health privacy.  In such cases, researchers should publicly explain why data are being withheld.  But the default position should be that data will be shared -- a practice that allows data and conclusions to be verified, contributes to further scientific advances, and allows the development of beneficial goods and services.   

 

Research data can be valuable for many years after they are generated -- for verifying results and generating new findings -- but maintaining high-quality and reliable databases can be costly, the report observes.  Researchers should establish data-management plans at the beginning of each research project that provide for the stewardship of data, and research sponsors should recognize that financial support for data professionals is an appropriate part of supporting research.  Professional societies should provide investigators with guidance about which data should be saved for the long term and which can be discarded.

 

The report was sponsored by the National Research Council, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Energy, Eli Lilly and Co., Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Nature Publishing Group, the Rockefeller University Press, New England Journal of Medicine, American Chemical Society, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, and IEEE.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter. 

Copies of Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age  are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

 

[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

 

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING

INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE

Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy

 

Committee on Ensuring the Utility and Integrity of Research Data in a Digital Age

 

Daniel Kleppner1 (co-chair)

Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics, Emeritus

Department of Physics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge

 

Phillip A. Sharp1,2 (co-chair)

Institute Professor

David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge

 

Margaret A. Berger

Professor of Law

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Norman M. Bradburn

Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus

University of Chicago

Chicago

 

John I. Brauman1

J.G. Jackson - C.J. Wood Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus

Department of Chemistry

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.

 

Jennifer T. Chayes

Managing Director

Microsoft Research, New England

Cambridge, Mass.

 

Anita K. Jones3

Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

University of Virginia

Charlottesville 

 

Linda P.B. Katehi3

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

University of Illinois

Urbana-Champaign

 

Neal F. Lane1

Malcolm Gillis University Professor of   Physics and Science Policy, and

Senior Fellow of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy

Rice University

Houston

 

W. Carl Lineberger1

E.U. Condon Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and

Fellow

Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics

University of Colorado

Boulder

 

Richard E. Luce

Vice Provost and Director of Libraries

Emory University

Atlanta

 

Thomas O. McGarity

Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law

School of Law

University of Texas

Austin

 

Steven M. Paul2 

Executive Vice President for Science and Technology, and

President

Lilly Research Laboratories

Eli Lilly and Co.

Indianapolis

 

Teresa Sullivan

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, and

Professor of Sociology

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor

 

Michael S. Turner1

Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, and

Chair

Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

University of Chicago

Chicago

 

J. Anthony Tyson1

Distinguished Professor of Physics

Department of Physics

University of California

Davis

 

Steven Wofsy

Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Harvard University

Cambridge, Mass.

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

Tom Arrison

Study Director

 

                                                                       

1 Member, National Academy of Sciences

2 Member, Institute of Medicine

3 Member, National Academy of Engineering