PLOS’ New Data Policy: Part Two

The past couple of weeks have led to an extraordinary outpouring of discussions on open data and its place in scientific publishing. We are grateful to everyone who took the trouble to tweet, blog or email about this and are heartened that so many people care as passionately as we do about open science. However, much of the discussion has centered on a misunderstanding in a previous blog post and we want to correct that now.

We apologize for causing confusion

In the previous post, and also on our site for PLOS ONE Academic Editors, an attempt to simplify our policy did not represent the policy correctly and we sincerely apologize for that and for the confusion it has caused. We are today correcting that post and hoping it provides the clarity many have been seeking. If it doesn’t we’d ask you once again to let us know – here on the blog, by email at data@plos.org, and via all the usual channels.

Two key things to summarize about the policy are:

  1. The policy does not aim to say anything new about what data types, forms and amounts should be shared.
  2. The policy does aim to make transparent where the data can be found, and says that it shouldn’t be just on the authors’ own hard drive.

Correction

We have struck out the paragraph in the original PLOS ONE blog post headed “What do we mean by data”, as we think it led to much of the confusion. Instead we offer this guidance to authors planning to submit to a PLOS journal.

What data do I need to make available?

We ask you to make available the data underlying the findings in the paper, which would be needed by someone wishing to understand, validate or replicate the work. Our policy has not changed in this regard. What has changed is that we now ask you to say where the data can be found.

As the PLOS data policy applies to all fields in which we publish, we recognize that we’ll need to work closely with authors in some subject areas to ensure adherence to the new policy. Some fields have very well established standards and practices around data, while others are still evolving, and we would like to work with any field that is developing data standards. We are aiming to ensure transparency about data availability.

An example

We are happy to answer questions about specific fields in detail. A generalized example of the type of question we have received recently, and our answer, is as follows.

Question sent to data@plos.org:

When I do an experiment taking a number of different measurements from cells, I usually report them in bar graphs as means from different experiments with their corresponding standard deviations, and the details of statistical analysis are provided in the methods section. Under this new policy is this information enough? Or does the new policy require that I upload the excel files with all the data underlying the graphs? And do I need to include every reading from the cells in raw form or can I provide just the summary in the excel files?

 
Answer:

There is no specific requirement with the new policy concerning the type of data that you make available – our focus at this stage is on making transparent where the data can be found. It has always been the case that different fields have different types of data that need to be provided – and indeed such requirements change over time, too. In the case of sensational claims, editors and reviewers frequently ask for more data than in other cases – as ‘extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence’.

 

So, as was always the case, if you are providing graphs, it would indeed be helpful to provide the spreadsheet from which you generated the graph. If you think some other form of the data would be useful to other researchers who might want to understand, replicate or build on your work, please do include it. Conversely, if it is usual in publications in this field to provide only the summary information, then that remains sufficient now. As ever, reviewers and editors will tell you if they feel more data is needed to support your findings, as this is one of the key functions of peer review.

 
Where to go for more information

Data sharing policy: http://www.plosone.org/static/policies#sharing

FAQs: http://www.plosone.org/static/policies#faqs

Contact: data@plos.org

Image Credit: jonathangray.com

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