Methodology

Dispute about ethics of data sharing

Andrew Gelman Mar 31 '12

Several months ago, Sam Behseta, the new editor of Chance magazine, asked me if I’d like to have a column. I said yes, I’d like to write on ethics and statistics. My first column was called “Open Data and Open Methods” and I discussed the ethical obligation to share data and make our computations transparent wherever possible. In my column, I recounted a story from a bit over 20 years ago when I noticed a problem in a published analysis (involving electromagnetic fields and calcium flow in chicken brains) and contacted the researcher in charge of the study, who would not share his data with me.

Two of the people from that research team—biologist Carl Blackman and statistician Dennis House—saw my Chance column and felt that I had misrepresented the situation and had criticized them unfairly.

Blackman and House expressed their concerns in letters to the editor which were just published, along with my reply, in the latest issue of Chance.

Seeing as I posted my article here, I thought it only appropriate to post the letters. Here they are. I encourage all of you who are interested in ethics and data sharing to take a look. As I wrote in my response, I appreciate the letters of Dr. Blackman and Mr. House and I hope that readers will benefit from seeing both their perspectives and mine—just as researchers in general can benefit from seeing multiple analyses of publicly shared data.

P.S. Please don’t put any criticisms of Blackman or House (or me!) in the comments. I appreciate that they put in the effort to respond, and my purpose in posting their letters here is to give a forum for their views. General comments about ethics and data sharing would be fine, but no need to focus on this particular case.