To share or not to share?

Big data is great. I don’t think anyone can argue against the benefits of making datasets, whether they are from independent, controlled experiments, or from large-scale projects such as the Earth microbiome, publicly available. Depositing your data in one of the databases available, such as figshare or MG-RAST, can only ever help science. It progresses science by preventing fraud, making the process more transparent, and allowing for crosschecking of results. Sharing facilitates discussion. I have never heard of unethical use of shared data.

Nothing new there. In fact, sharing data might prevent masses and masses of unpublished data from getting lost forever, and thus has the potential to save millions of pounds of public money being spent on experiments that have already been done, but that no one knows about. Think about all those PhD thesis chapters, all analysed and written up, that never get published, and are therefore potentially lost for science forever. Similar to their open access strategy, research councils and funding agencies should perhaps set up a system that obliges PhD students to deposit their data before they can get their doctorate. Continue reading

Cheating in academia?

It’s been all over the media in the past weeks – Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong, in which he admitted having used EPO, blood transfusions, and hormones. Having been a semi-professional mountain biker for years, I have been following the accusations that preceded the interview, the buildup to the interview, and the (media) response after the interview. One thing I found particularly interesting is that Lance Armstrong didn’t feel he was cheating, because (at the time?) everyone was using doping.

After having read a recent blog post on Retraction Watch, I couldn’t help starting to compare cheating in sports with cheating in academia. There are quite a few parallels – for example, Tyler Hamilton, a convicted doping user, has written a book about his years in Lance Armstrong’s team, giving insight in the systematic drug use in the peloton. One of the most notorious committers of scientific misconduct, Diederik Stapel, has written a book about his fraud, and I am sure others will follow his example. After all, once your career is over because of cheating, writing a book about it is a good way to make money as well as coming clean, which must be a massive relief after having lived a lie for many years. Continue reading