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Researchers: Medical study data must be widely, routinely shared

The ability of scientists or research teams to replicate or otherwise test and evaluate the results of scientific studies authored by other parties is critical for a number of reasons.

For starters, alleged truth must be tested and confirmed before it can be universally recognized and applied, in fields ranging from science to medicine. Moreover, errors that are allowed to remain in scientific work because others do not have meaningful access to third-party research bring about danger in real-life contexts.

Consider a study that has implications for spinal cord injuries, anesthesia errors, the misdiagnosis of an illness or some other medical topic of concern. It might have uncovered a revolutionary new truth or, conversely, contain a deadly flaw in its logic, but neither of those outcomes can be known or acted upon in the wider world without complete releasing of the data upon which the work is based that provides for its ready replication.

That, say researchers Victoria Stodden (Columbia University) and Samuel Arbesman (senior scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation), is far from being a common outcome. Scientists frequently do not exchange or publish research results, and that, the researchers state, "is making verification of published findings all but impossible and crating a credibility crisis in computational science."

So, for example, a team of surgeons relying on less-than-detailed knowledge of the work done by researchers at another institution -- even an eminent institution -- could visit serious medical harm upon a patient, because they were not apprised of all the relevant information underlying that research.

Stodden and Arbesman call for stricter transparency requirements in the publishing of scientific findings. In their view, that centrally means letting others know the details related to the findings -- the steps taken, the processes followed, the formulas in play. In other words, share the actual work.

Doing so routinely, they say, will "help ensure that public policy is based on sound science."

Source: Bloomberg, "Scientists, share secrets or lose funding: Stodden and Arbesman" Victoria Stodden and Samuel Arbesman, Jan. 9, 2012

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