Themes from the literature – obligations in the Life Sciences



The notes which are given below refer to the following publication:

National Academy of Sciences (2003). Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences.

Obtained online at

Some of the pertinent findings and discussion materials of the Committee on Responsibilities of Authorship in the Biological Sciences are given below.


1. Community Standards and the Sharing of Materials and Data

The Uniform Principle for Sharing Integral Data and materials Expeditiously (UPSIDE) is given as follows (p.4):

Community standards for sharing publication-related data and materials should flow from the general principle that the publication of scientific information in intended to  move science forward. More specifically, the act of publishing is a quid pro quo in which authors receive credit and acknowledgment in exchange for disclosure of their scientific findings. An author;s obligation is not only to release data and materials to enable others to verify or replicate published findings (as journals already implicitly or explicitly require) but also to provide them in a form on which other scientists can build with further research. All members of the scientific community – whether working in academia, government, or a commercial enterprise – have equal responsibility for upholding community standards as participants in the publication system, and all should be equally able to derive benefits from it.


2. Community Principles – Expectations and Authors

In addition to the UPSIDE statement, the committee identified five corollary principles associated with sharing publication-related data. These are given as follows (pp.5-7):


Principle 1. Authors should include in their publications the data, algorithms, or other information that is central or integral to the publication – that is, whatever is necessary to support the major claims of the paper and would enable one skilled in the art to verify or replicate the claims.

Principle 2. If central or integral information cannot be included in the publication for practical reasons (for example, because a dataset is too large), it should be made freely (without restriction on its use for research purposes and at no cost) and readily accessible through other means (for example, on-line). Moreover, when necessary to enable further research, integral information should be made available in a form that enables it to be manipulated, analyzed, and combined with other scientific data.

Principle 3. If publicly accessible repositories for data have been agreed on by a community of researchers and are in general use, the relevant data should be deposited in one of these repositories by the time of publication.


Principle 4. Authors of scientific publications should anticipate which materials integral to their publication are likely to be requested and should state in the “Materials and Methods” section or elsewhere how to obtain them.

Principle 5. If a material integral to a publication is patented, the provider of the material should make the material available under a license for research use


3. Community recommendations – for all those who participate in the publication process

This includes:

  • Academic, government and industrial scientists
  • Scientific societies, publishers and editors of scientific journals
  • Institutions and organisations that conduct and fund scientific research

The committee made the following recommendations for future discussion in the workshop (pp 5-12):

Recommendation 1. The scientific community should continue to be involved in crafting appropriate terms of any legislation that provides additional database protection

Recommendation 2. It is appropriate for scientific reviewers of a paper submitted for publication to help identify materials that are integral to the publication and likely to be requested by others.

Recommendation 3. It is not acceptable for the provider of publication-related material to demand an exclusive license to commercialise a new substance that a recipient makes with the provider’s material or to require collaboration or coauthorship of future publications.

Recommendation 4. The merits of adopting a standard MTA should be examined closely by all institutions engaged in technology transfer, and efforts to streamline the process should be championed.

Recommendation 5. As a best practice, participants in the publication process should commit to a limit of 60 days to complete the negotiation of publication-related MTAs and transmit the requested materials and data.

Recommendation 6. Scientific journals should clearly and prominently state (in the instructions for authors and on their Websites) their policies for distribution of publication-related materials, data, and other information. Policies for sharing materials should include requirements for depositing materials in an appropriate repository. Policies for data sharing should include requirements for deposition of complex datasets in appropriate databases and for the sharing of software and algorithms integral to the findings being reported. The policies should also clearly state the consequences for authors who do not adhere to the policies and the procedure for registering complaints about noncompliance.

Recommendation 7. Sponsors of research and research institutions should clearly and prominently state their policies for distribution of publication-related materials and data by their grant or contract recipients or employees.

Recommendation 8. If an author does not comply with a request for data or materials in areasonable time period and the requestor has contacted the author to determine if extenuating circumstances may have caused the delay, it is acceptable for the requestor to contact the journal in which the paper was published. If that course of action is unsuccessful in due course, the requestor may reasonably contact the author’s university or other institution or the funder of the research in question for assistance.

Recommendation 9. Funding organisations should provide the recipients of research grants and contracts with the financial resources needed to support dissemination of publication- related data and materials.

Recommendation 10. Authors who have received data or materials from other investigators should acknowledge such contributions appropriately.


4. Identified problem areas with data sharing due to rapid changes in the life-sciences discipline

The following problems were highlighted at the time – 2003 (p.18):

  • Disagreement and uncertainty about the responsibilities of authors to share data and materials
  • A sense that, in practice, publication-related materials and data are not always readily available to researchers who desire access to them
  • Suggestions that standards for sharing are not being enforced
  • Controversy over seemingly different application of journal policies to different authors
  • Questions about how standards and policies apply to various types of data and materials, such as large databases and software
  • Suggestions that standards for sharing may be in conflict with federal legislation that encourages commercialisation of the results of federally  funded research.
  • The prospect that new legal protections for databases, particularly in Europe, will complicate the development of comprehensive and consistent standards.
  • Uncertainty as to whether academic investigators should be treated differently from industry investigators with regard to the provision of access to their publication-related data or materials