Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr Jules J Berman

  It is of great importance that researchers have access to primary publications and to the primary data that supports the assertions contained in the publications. Unfortunately, most scientific literature is barely accessible to researchers. Fifty years ago, it may have been possible for a library to stock all the journals related to a discipline. This is impossible today. There are too many journals, and much of today's research crosses scientific disciplines. In medical research, a typical study may involve clinicians, programmers, statisticians, pathologists, bioinformaticians, etc. The research product is often a large database. If the database is not made available as a supplemental file, the reader has no possible way of reviewing the data. Print journals can only accommodate a few summary tables and are inadequate vehicles for conveying primary datasets. Without data review, there's very little reason to accept the validity of the assertions included in the manuscript.

  The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports making research data available to the general public. The NIH policy on data sharing took effect 1 October, 2003. The policy specifies that "all investigator-initiated applications with direct costs greater than $500,000 in any single year will be expected to address data sharing in their application." [5] The reasons for this policy appeared in the NIH draft statement on data sharing. [6] "Sharing data reinforces open scientific inquiry, encourages diversity of analysis and opinion, promotes new research, makes possible the testing of new or alternative hypotheses and methods of analysis, supports studies on data collection methods and measurement, facilitates the education of new researchers, enables the exploration of topics not envisioned by the initial investigators, and permits the creation of new data sets when data from multiple sources are combined. By avoiding the duplication of expensive data collection activities, the NIH is able to support more investigators than it could if similar data had to be collected de novo by each applicant." [7] The NIH policy is similar to journal publication guidelines recently released by the National Academy of Sciences and endorsed by many journal editors. [8]

  On 26 June, 2003, the "Public Access to Science Act" was introduced to the US House of Representatives by Congressman Sabo. The bill comments that the US federal government spends $45 billion dollars each year to support scientific and medical research, and it seeks to ensure that the resulting publications are made freely available to the public. The intent of the bill is to have federally-supported publications entered into the public domain.  The text of the bill is available at: []

  It is my personal perception that scientific progress is impeded by the traditional journal publication system. What is needed is open access to research papers and research data. It seems fair that research supported by government funding should be made freely available to the public. Open access publications, such as BiomedCentral, provide a viable solution. The BiomedCentral publications are all online and are available to the public on the same day that they are accepted [through a peer review process]. BiomedCentral publishes the text manuscript, as well as figures, tables, and primary datasets. Publications are indexed by the National Library of Medicine and can be accessed by the public through a PubMed search. This is a terrific system and will be a great benefit to humanity.

January 2004

5   Final NIH Statement on Sharing Research Data. 2003. Back

6   NIH Draft Statement on Sharing Research Data. 2002. Back

7   as above Back

8   National Academy of Sciences Report. Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2003 Back

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Prepared 20 July 2004