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Sharing in Science

Karen Louis, Lisa Jones, Eric Campbell

Figure 1. Are research results freely shared? . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Over the past two decades, one of the notable features of the landscape of science in the United States has been the growth of research relationships between academia and private industry. These arrangements have in turn been the subject of considerable research. But there have been few studies examining one aspect—the effects they might have on the sharing of research results in science.

Openness in the sharing of research results is one of the norms of modern science. The assumption behind this openness is that progress in science demands the sharing of results within the scientific community as early as possible in the discovery process. Scientists communicate their results so that others may build on previous work to move knowledge forward. Moreover, open communication lets other investigators challenge, verify and widely disseminate results. Yet it is also argued that some secrecy is necessary in science to protect intellectual property and govern the uses of the research. Previous research suggests that most scientists are actually ambivalent, believing in both openness and some secrecy.

In a recent survey, we looked at sharing and secrecy in the fast-moving field of genetics, where industry-academic collaborations are widespread. We wondered whether there is an association between faculty members' opinions about the importance and timing of sharing research results, and their relationships with industry. And we wanted to assess the consequences, both positive and negative, of prepublication sharing of research data or materials. We asked, for instance, whether the progress of individual research projects, or of students' careers, had been affected by the sharing or withholding of results.

A related issue is the degree to which scientists benefit personally and financially from their research. The increasing involvement of university-based scientists with industry over the past two decades raises different questions about openness and personal interest. Corporate sponsors of university research restrict early publication to protect their financial interests; university policies often support this practice to protect the university's right to patent research results. Individual faculty members are increasing their personal stake in the commercialization of their research as they become involved in new start-up companies or serve on industry boards of directors.

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