Context The free and open sharing of information, data, and materials regarding
published research is vital to the replication of published results, the efficient
advancement of science, and the education of students. Yet in daily practice,
the ideal of free sharing is often breached.
Objective To understand the nature, extent, and consequences of data withholding
in academic genetics.
Design, Setting, and Participants Mailed survey (March-July 2000) of geneticists and other life scientists
in the 100 US universities that received the most funding from the National
Institutes of Health in 1998. Of a potential 3000 respondents, 2893 were eligible
and 1849 responded, yielding an overall response rate of 64%. We analyzed
a subsample of 1240 self-identified geneticists and made a limited number
of comparisons with 600 self-identified nongeneticists.
Main Outcome Measures Percentage of faculty who made requests for data that were denied; percentage
of respondents who denied requests; influences on and consequences of withholding
data; and changes over time in perceived willingness to share data.
Results Forty-seven percent of geneticists who asked other faculty for additional
information, data, or materials regarding published research reported that
at least 1 of their requests had been denied in the preceding 3 years. Ten
percent of all postpublication requests for additional information were denied.
Because they were denied access to data, 28% of geneticists reported that
they had been unable to confirm published research. Twelve percent said that
in the previous 3 years, they had denied another academician's request for
data concerning published results. Among geneticists who said they had intentionally
withheld data regarding their published work, 80% reported that it required
too much effort to produce the materials or information; 64%, that they were
protecting the ability of a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, or junior
faculty member to publish; and 53%, that they were protecting their own ability
to publish. Thirty-five percent of geneticists said that sharing had decreased
during the last decade; 14%, that sharing had increased. Geneticists were
as likely as other life scientists to deny others' requests (odds ratio [OR],
1.39; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.81-2.40) and to have their own requests
denied (OR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.69-1.40). However, other life scientists were
less likely to report that withholding had a negative impact on their own
research as well as their field of research.
Conclusions Data withholding occurs in academic genetics and it affects essential
scientific activities such as the ability to confirm published results. Lack
of resources and issues of scientific priority may play an important role
in scientists' decisions to withhold data, materials, and information from
other academic geneticists.