I was just reading the president’s letter from the May 2007 edition of the HHMI Bulletin published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In it, Thomas Cech summarizes the conclusions of a National Research Council committee in which he chaired in 2003. The committee was charged with taking a fresh look at the responsibilities of scientists to share the data and materials referenced in original research articles. They developed a concept that they called UPSIDE which stands for the Uniform Principle for Sharing Integral Data and Materials Expeditiously.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute has long required their investigators to share their published research materials to the extent possible. In fact, their policy on sharing these materials is transparent and broad. Their policy states that they will share materials within 60 days from request, which includes the negotiation of a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). It contains specific terms for materials, data & databases, and software. It also clearly states the responsibilities of those requesting these materials, all of which seem reasonable to me.
While I haven’t read many statements by research institutes on their policy for sharing materials, given the way that I often hear MTAs discussed I suspect that not many research institutes require their investigators to share. Yes, it can be a burden to prepare, list and license materials, though with new tools like the iBridge Network, the Science Commons MTA standardization and others this burden is becoming lighter every day.
Nobelist Max Perutz has noted that, “True science thrives best in glass houses, where everyone can look in.” True science also benefits when research articles and materials are freely available after publication. Given the huge benefit to science and future discoveries, I hope that the recent successes by iBridge members in sharing materials in a low-transaction cost manner are just the tip of the iceberg in helping to fuel future innovation and discovery.
I welcome your comments on the subject of openness: