ISB’s Response to NEJM’s editorial on the subject of Data Sharing

One of the primary goals of biocuration is to provide an accurate and comprehensive representation of biological knowledge and easy access to these data for working scientists, whether they be computational scientists, basic researchers, or clinicians. This and other goals of our field are achieved thanks to the convergent endeavors of biocurators, software developers, bioinformaticians, and many other researchers. Biocurators provide essential resources to the biological community such that a number of databases have become an integral part of the tools researchers use on a daily basis for their work. Much of our work is accomplished through the use and citation of publicly available datasets as well as data generated in our institutions. In addition, the results of our analyses and the datasets we generate are very commonly used by other researchers.

As members of the Executive Committee for the International Society for Biocuration (ISB) we express our deep concern about the grave statements made in the recently published editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) [1] regarding the principles behind data sharing in the context of scientific research. The notion that rapid and unrestricted sharing of data and research resources can undermine the advancement of research itself is in direct contrast to the many initiatives being promoted by research institutions around the world. Two examples of this are the Big Data to Knowledge initiative (BD2K) [2], which highlights that sharing software and data are key elements to help solving outstanding healthcare problems [3], and an initiative from the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the United States Government to expand public access to the results of federally funded research [4]. Requirements from both granting agencies and journals state a need for sharing, accompanied by policies that address and protect privacy concerns where necessary.

Like many of our colleagues, we also think that NEJM’s additional commentary on the editorial [5] falls short in the attempt to address the statements at the center of the controversy that the initial piece incited from the wider scientific community.

The consequences of conducting research in an environment that restricts rather than encourages prompt access to data can only result in slowing the progress of discovery. The practices of openness and collaboration lie at the core of the mission of ISB, and we will continue to do everything in our power to promote these principles within our membership and with our collaborators.


The International Society for Biocuration Executive Committee,

J. Michael Cherry – President,
Monica Munoz-Torres – Secretary,
Sandra Orchard – Treasurer,
Cecilia Arighi,
Melissa Haendel,
Suzanna Lewis,
Claire O’Donovan,
Sylvain Poux,
Zhang Zhang.

1. Longo, D.L. and J.M. Drazen, Data Sharing. N Engl J Med, 2016. 374(3): p. 276-7
2. Big Data to Knowledge initiative (BD2K).
3. Bourne, P. Data Science @ NIH – The Year in Review. INPUT|OUTPUT. 2016.
4. Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research. 2013.
5. Drazen, J.M. N Engl J Med, 2016. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMe1601087