Nature has recently published a Careers article, written by Virginia Gewin (1), where the pros and cons of biological data sharing are deeply analysed. On the one hand, the drive to share is gathering official steam; on the other hand, scientists disagree about how much and when they should share data.
More than 500 publishers and journals have signed up the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines, along 57 organisations. Moreover, funders are increasingly adopting an open-data policy. Therefore, a spirit of openness, necessary to speed up discoveries and to identify large-scale trends, is clearly gaining traction in the science community.
However, some scientists are still wary of open data. According to them, being open implies becoming scientifically vulnerable. Furthermore, preparing the data for others to view, answering questions and handling complaints from requesters can be tedious and time consuming. Embracing the idea of open data and code makes traditional academics uncomfortable and thus many young researchers, are uncertain about whether to share or to stay private.
In this regard, the European Genome-phenome Archive (EGA), represents a large open access repository for genomes and phenomes. The EGA strongly encourages and helps researchers and clinicians from all over the world to store and share their genomic and phenotypic data. Additionally, EGA provides accession identifiers for each data component (samples, datasets) in order to make each research project traceable and reproducible.
Not only does the EGA foster the concept of public repository but it also allows for control of the sharing of this data. The information submitted at the EGA is securely kept and only distributed on behalf of the owner. Those requesters not fulfilling the terms and conditions specified by the Data Access Committee (DAC) will not be able to access the archived files.
The EGA may serve as example, all in all, for supporting that data sharing and data protection can be compatible.
(1) An open mind on open data – Nature Careers
07 January, 2016. Nature 529, 117–119 – doi:10.1038/nj7584-117a