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BureaucracyResearch on Research

#sharescientificdata – an idea cultured in the laboratory

By September 23, 2015 No Comments

6121420214_b83351fd6a_o10 years ago I was a junior medical scientist doing drug research. Although I enjoyed the work, things didn’t feel quite right when I was confronted with the requirement to hide my scientific data.

Was it ‘my’ scientific data anyway? Yes, I had worked long hours in the lab, running gels and patiently waiting for the results of the PCRs, and oh, let’s not forget the piles upon piles of pipette tips. But why did I all of a sudden ‘possess’ that data and why would I then choose to hide it from others? Maybe tomorrow my team would discover a drug, and maybe that drug would be revolutionary and save thousands of lives worldwide, and maybe we would become millionaires. Let’s not get carried away. #calmdown #continuerunninggels.

But this requirement to hide my data got me thinking. Those long hours patiently waiting for the PCR tests were definitely moments of reflection for me. I pondered on my motivations to carry out medical research. Was it that I wanted to become rich and famous and have a scientific discovery connected to my name? Or was it that I was driven by the desire to learn more about the universe and to help save lives? OK, maybe a bit of both #richandfamous #humblescientist #socialsaver.

But was I then living a life of contradictions? How could I become a better scientist if I was always just thinking about myself and competing with my peers worldwide in the “battle” of drug discovery? I soon realised that my peers faced these same predicaments and we tried to figure out the source of such conflicting thoughts. We observed that we were operating within the system of drug discovery, and the pressure to commercialise was a key contributor to data withholding. D’Este and Patel claim that in the 1990s a ‘third role’ was added to universities, namely – to ‘knowledge producer’ and ‘knowledge transmitter’ was added ‘economic developer’ [1]. But where did we fit within this system? We wanted to help save lives and to earn a living, that’s not too much to ask, right?

My original question still confronted me: but why would I hide my data from others? Maybe I just couldn’t discover the drug tomorrow and maybe if I shared my data with other researchers, maybe together we could have advanced science a little further and maybe we could have discovered something together #partyinthelab. I realized that it was not that simple. The system had its intricate complexities and was founded upon a particular epistemology. I posed myself some deep philosophical questions. What is the nature of science anyway and how does it advance? Who are scientists and what is their role in society? Should scientists share their data with others? And is science open?

10 years have passed and I decided it was time to explore these questions. My research topic is: Promoting a culture of open science and data sharing in health and medical research. It is still quite early in my candidature but so far I have learned that the concept of sharing scientific knowledge is intrinsic to science, none more so than to health and medical science [2, 3]. Louis Pasteur’s contribution to health science in 1859 for example, that diseases came from microorganisms and that bacteria could be killed by heat and disinfectant, caused doctors to wash their hands and sterilise their instruments, thereby saving millions of lives [4]. The learning generated through health and medical science solves problems, cures diseases, and improves functions and processes.

 Open science is the practice of making everything in the discovery process fully and openly available, creating transparency and driving further discovery by allowing new knowledge to be generated in the context of the enlightenment of earlier discoveries [5]. Open science is a movement that aims to contribute to humanity’s progress by promoting the sharing of scientific ideas, concepts, data, methods, and results with not only researchers, but also consumers, industry, and society at large [6, 7]. At the heart of open science is the principle that science belongs to humanity, to all of us [8].

Together with my supervisors, Associate Professor Adrian Barnett and Professor Nicholas Graves, we will carry out studies that will provide qualitative and quantitative evidence into why data sharing is not common in the health and medical research community, and provide potential solutions to enhance the culture of scientific data sharing worldwide and contribute to the progress of the health and wellbeing of humanity at large.

The significance of my research is that it challenges the roots of the philosophical conceptions of science, it questions the current model of health and medical research, it prompts scientists to reflect on the factors that shape their choices to share or not to share their data, and it seeks to promote a culture of data sharing that is empowering to adopt – all with the vision of the widespread generation, diffusion and application of health and medical knowledge.

When Isaac Newton claimed, ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’, he evocatively captured how sharing scientific knowledge is crucial to advancing scientific discovery. Though Newton made his statement in 1676, the principle is still true today #sharescientificdata.

Anisa Rowhani-Farid


AusHSI PhD Scholar


  1. D’Este, P. and P. Patel, University–industry linkages in the UK: What are the factors underlying the variety of interactions with industry? Research Policy, 2007. 36(9): p. 1295-1313.
  2. Kim, Y. and J. Stanton, Institutional and individual influences on scientists’ data sharing behaviors: A multilevel analysis. Proc. Am. Soc. Info. Sci. Tech., 2013. 50(1): p. 1-14.
  3. Society, T.R. Science as an open enterprise. 2012 June 2012; Available from: https://royalsociety.org/~/media/royal_society_content/policy/projects/sape/2012-06-20-saoe.pdf.
  4. Pasteur, L., Transformation des acides tartriques en acide racémique. Découverte de l’acide tartrique inactif. Nouvelle méthode de séparation de l’acide racémique en acides tartriques droit et gauche. 1853: impr. Bachelier.
  5. Watson, M., When will ‘open science’ become simply ‘science’? Genome biology, 2015. 16(1): p. 101.
  6. Pisani, E. and C. AbouZahr, Sharing health data: good intentions are not enough. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2010. 88(6): p. 462-466.
  7. Aleksic, J., et al., An open science peer review oath. F1000Research, 2014. 3.
  8. Foundation, R., Spirit of Faith. 2005, Palabra Publications: Florida.