In last week's journal club we read about a recent paper in Psychological Science with a very clear message: It should be the norm for researchers to post their data upon publication. In the article, the author (Uri Simonsohn) lays out the major reason why he thinks posting data is a good idea: It helps our field catch scientific fraud in action (e.g., fabricated data). Simonsohn details some methods he has used in the past to catch fraud in the paper and on his new blog over at datacolada.org (I'll have mine blended!).
I agree that posting data will make it harder for people to fabricate data. However, my favorite reason to increase norms for posting data has nothing to do with data fabrication.
I admit I was naive when I started out my research career. It was 2002 and I was a lost undergraduate at UC Berkeley. I wandered into Professor Serena Chen's (she was Professor Chen to me at the time) office and told her that "I was maybe thinking about trying my hand at an honors thesis." She looked at me, the way that a faculty member typically looks at a lost undergraduate, and gave me a stack of papers to read. A week later, we were working together on a project that ended up being Study 2 in this paper.
At the time I wanted to be involved in research because it seemed so cool--to actually add a (small) piece of public knowledge to what we already know about social psychology. That professors actually do this on a daily basis (and for money!) made it seem like "researcher" was a super cool job. If I think back, this is really what fired me up about conducting research!
Flash forward to 2010 when I was applying for my first tenure-track position. Now I number the publications in my vita (count my awesomeness!), I get "royally cheesed off"* by another researcher's failure to cite my work, and I tout my ability to publish in "top-tier journals" in my application cover letter. Long gone are thoughts of contributing to public knowledge--how very sad.
The point of conducting research is not to die with the most publications but to create public knowledge that will better society and our understanding of the human experience. That to me is the real reason we should post data (without restrictions or authorship obligations)--because data is a source of knowledge, and that knowledge is for the public good. Too often we get caught up in ownership of the ideas we write about in our papers or the data we collected using our own efforts. Many of the graduate students at STAG expressed ownership objections, and I appreciate these concerns (particularly coming from graduate students looking to land a job!). We forget though, that these ideas and our efforts are not only ours, but society's as well.
Researchers should post their data in most cases (not all cases for various reasons brought up in the paper). In this spirit, my laboratory is starting a data-posting initiative. We hope to have data available for half of our lab publications by the end of Spring 2014. I hope you will join me in contributing to public knowledge!
* Yes, I did just use that in a sentence!
Simonsohn, U. (2013). Just Post It: The Lesson From Two Cases of Fabricated Data Detected by Statistics Alone Psychological Science DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2114571