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Scientific Journals, R&D Community Must Address Barriers To Sharing Data During Public Health Emergencies

Nature: Sharing data to save lives

“…[M]any data producers worry that if they publicly release their data prior to submitting a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, the editors of the journal may consider the released data no longer novel and reject their manuscript for that reason. In addition, especially when data producers are on the ground working to stem an outbreak and are thus occupied with tasks more important than writing manuscripts, other scientists may analyze the released data, submit the resulting manuscript, and ultimately ‘scoop’ the data-producing lab. Allaying the first concern is the responsibility of scientific journals. … [W]hen we feel that the data in a submitted manuscript may be useful more broadly to agencies working to stem a public health emergency, we will encourage authors to publicly release the data immediately. … But these steps address just one part of the problem. Scientists, funders, and governments must work to solve the rest. … Communities of data producers and users must agree on guidelines for the etiquette of data sharing and data use. … Once data producers and users coalesce around a set of guidelines, funders can create policies to ensure that they are followed as often as possible, and that data producers remain incentivized to quickly share their results…” (11/5).

The Lancet: Providing incentives to share data early in health emergencies: the role of journal editors
Christopher J.M. Whitty, professor in the Clinical Research Department at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and colleagues

“…During the recent Ebola outbreak the main reasons given for not sharing data or giving early notification of results to responders were the perceived disincentives to share data, the lack of a mechanism to enable data sharing, and the absence of positive incentives to share data. Three disincentives were frequently mentioned: data sharing would jeopardize subsequent publication; it would allow preemptive use of data by others for their own publications; and it would breach confidentiality agreements. … This unwillingness to share data threatened the lives of both communities and health care workers … Individual journal editors have already made clear that putting data or results into the hands of responders, or indeed public databases, will not threaten subsequent publication. … Journal editors can, however, go further and provide incentives for those wishing to publish data to share these before publication with responders and public health authorities. Journals could state that they will only publish data-driven research arising from a public health emergency if it is accompanied by an explicit statement from authors that they had shared data and results with authorities and legitimate bodies responding to the emergency at the earliest possible opportunity. Such a recommendation would provide a strong but not an onerous positive incentive” (11/7).

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