Research Remix

May 30, 2007

Data Withholding research

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heather Piwowar @ 10:58 am

Thanks to a pointer from Melissa Cragin in response to an earlier post, I’ve been reading the publications of Eric Campbell and his colleagues on data withholding.  This group has conducted multiple surveys, asking academics about the degree to which they have experienced and have participated in delaying or refusing to share data and materials with other academics through personal communication.

Great stuff.

For my research purposes, I’d also be very interested in a breakdown for just data, not also materials sharing.  I’m also curious about withholding data via databases, the internet, and other post-once-share-many open data methods, in addition to their focus on personal communication.  {Note, the database issue is discussed in a related letter [Beaulieu A.  JAMA. 2002 Apr 17;287(15):1939-40]  and author reply, and an unrelated case study [Ventura B. (2005) Mandatory submission of microarray data to public repositories: how is it working? Physiol Genomics 20: 153–156].  I haven’t yet searched for additional research in this area; would be glad to hear of any.}

Abstracts, excerpts, and some notes on the articles individually (emphases mine):

Oldest and most general paper:

Blumenthal D, Campbell EG, Anderson MS, Causino N, Louis KS.  Withholding research results in academic life science. Evidence from a national survey of facultyJAMA. 1997 Apr 16;277(15):1224-8.

OBJECTIVES: To identify the prevalence and determinants of data-withholding behaviors among academic life scientists. DESIGN: Mailed survey of 3394 life science faculty in the 50 universities that received the most funding from the National Institutes of Health in 1993. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 2167 faculty responded to the survey, a 64% response rate. OUTCOME MEASURES: Whether respondents delayed publication of their research results for more than 6 months and whether respondents refused to share research results with other university scientists in the last 3 years. RESULTS: A total of 410 respondents (19.8%) reported that publication of their research results had been delayed by more than 6 months at least once in the last 3 years to allow for patent application, to protect their scientific lead, to slow the dissemination of undesired results, to allow time to negotiate a patent, or to resolve disputes over the ownership of intellectual property. Also, 181 respondents (8.9%) reported refusing to share research results with other university scientists in the last 3 years. In multivariate analysis, participation in an academic-industry research relationship and engagement in the commercialization of university research were significantly associated with delays in publication. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were 1.34 (1.07-1.59) and 3.15 (2.88-3.41), respectively. Variables associated with refusing to share results were conducting research similar to the Human Genome Project (OR, 2.09; 95% CI, 1.75-2.42), publication rate (OR, 1.02; 95% CI, 1.01-1.03), and engagement in commercialization of research (OR, 2.45; 95% CI, 2.08-2.82). CONCLUSIONS: Withholding of research results is not a widespread phenomenon among life-science researchers. However, withholding is more common among the most productive and entrepreneurial faculty. These results also suggest that data withholding has affected a significant number of life-science faculty and further study on data-withholding practices is suggested.

Reasons for withholding (breakdown of the 8.9%, n=181):
to protect scientific lead (46%), too expensive or scarce (27%), informal/formal agreement with company (18%/4%), financial interest of university (4%), to protect my own financial interest (2%, n=4)

“our findings suggest that data withholding is not widespread, at least as measured by self-reports of faculty. Of course, underreporting could have led us to underestimate the frequency with which faculty withhold their research results from the academic community. The fact that 34% of faculty have been denied access to research results suggests that data withholding has affected many life-science faculty.”

“Our research also confirms Weinberg’s anecdotal impression [7] that investigators in the field of genetics are more likely to engage in data-withholding behaviors- in this case, refusal to share materials and research results.  In subanalyses we found that genetics faculty were twice as likely as other respondents (16% vs 7%, P<.001) to cite preserving their scientific lead as a motive for refusing to share.”

Note (as per a subsequent paper) that this study did not explicitly exclude reprints, and so may have overestimated “denial of access.”

Many of these findings support Bill’s comments about the field.

Focus on academic medicine:

Eric G. Campbell,
Joel S. Weissman,
Nancyanne Causino and
David Blumenthal.  Data withholding in academic medicine: characteristics of faculty denied access to research results and biomaterials. Research Policy, 2000, vol. 29, issue 2, pages 303-312

The sharing and withholding
of research results is a topic of intense debate within the scientific
community. However, few studies have addressed this issue. This study
examines how frequently academic scientists are denied access to other
investigators’ research results and the characteristics of faculty who
are most likely to have this experience. This paper is based on data
from a mailed survey of a stratified, random sample of faculty in 117
US medical schools (n=2366, response rate 62.2%) conducted in
1996–1997. The results show that 12.5% of researchers in medical
schools have been denied access to other academic investigators’ datawithin the last 3 years
. Researchers who were most likely to be victims of data withholding were those who have withheld research results from others, published more than 20 articles in the last 3 years, to have applied for a patent, or spent more than 40 hours per week in research activities.

All else being equal, faculty are more likely to be denied access if they are young, primarily engaged in research, much published, actively commercializing their research, and/or academic leaders. In addition, those who deny research results to others also are more likely to have their own requests refused.

From a policy perspective, it is likely that data withholding slows the progress towards better understanding of the causes, cures and prevention of human disease when the most productive researchers are selectively denied access to the research results of others. To the extent possible, individual researchers should make every attempt to share their results freely with the academic community.

Out of time for today, will continue with their newer articles next time.

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