The Challenges of Sharing Data in an Era of Politicized Science | Medical Journals and Publishing | JAMA | JAMA Network
[Skip to Navigation]
Access to paid content on this site is currently suspended due to excessive activity being detected from your IP address Please contact the publisher to request reinstatement.
November 21, 2019

The Challenges of Sharing Data in an Era of Politicized Science

Author Affiliations
  • 1Dr Bauchner is Editor in Chief and Dr Fontanarosa is Executive Editor, JAMA
JAMA. 2019;322(23):2290-2291. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.19786

The goal of making science more transparent—sharing data, posting results on trial registries, use of preprint servers, and open access publishing—may enhance scientific discovery and improve individual and population health, but it also comes with substantial challenges in an era of politicized science, enhanced skepticism, and the ubiquitous world of social media. The recent announcement by the Trump administration of plans to proceed with an updated version of the proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,”1 stipulating that all underlying data from studies that underpin public health regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must be made publicly available so that those data can be independently validated, epitomizes some of these challenges.2,3 According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler: “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”3

Limit 200 characters
Limit 25 characters
Conflicts of Interest Disclosure

Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.

Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.

Err on the side of full disclosure.

If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.

Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.

Limit 140 characters
Limit 3600 characters or approximately 600 words
    4 Comments for this article
    The Weaponization of Open Science
    Michael Berkwits, MD, MSCE | Digital Editor, JAMA Network
    We live in an era when electronic platforms created to connect people to one another and to foster openness and transparency are being used to spread misinformation, advance conflict-driven agendas, and weaken communities. Indeed, the delivery of misinformation on open platforms has been compared to the delivery of infectious disease to Native communities in the Age of Exploration: we are completely unimmune and susceptible, with potentially devastating population effects. As scientific and STEM publishing communities grapple with the evolution of data sharing and open science, are we thinking far enough ahead to imagine how the systems and standards we establish to improve science can be misused? This editorial by JAMA's Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor asks that crucial question and sets an additional standard: that the "search for evidence, facts, and truth [is not] compromised by special interests, coercive influences, or politicized perspectives." But how do we best achieve that? Thoughts are welcome below.
    Everything Must Be in d\Daylight!
    William Prendergast, MD | Retired physician
    You certainly are not going to make science more persuasive or less prone to distortion and abuse by restricting or sequestering the data that underlies its conclusions! Rather more likely the opposite! Publish all the details of your work, along with your conflicts of interest honestly stated, and let it stand or fall on its merits. Confronted with such complete disclosure, interested readers for the most part are not so naive that they cannot draw the appropriate conclusions. Those who cannot should be ignored!
    EVERYONE has a bias
    Joseph Marek | Private Practice Cardiologist, Advocate Health
    Unfortunately scientific reporting on medical studies (and climate change) has been plagued with bias and misrepresentation and even outright falsification. Authors of scientific studies should not be assumed to be pure and honest. They have biases known or unknown that color their conclusions. They have motivations for academic advancement or ties to medical industry that cloud their judgment.

    This is recently evidenced in the JAMA Network Open article titled: "Level and Prevalence of Spin in Published Cardiovascular Randomized Clinical Trial Reports With Statistically Nonsignificant Primary Outcomes A Systematic Review" (JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(5):e192622.).

    This analysis among
    others in medical and climate science has bred skepticism. This isn't entirely bad. Skepticism is the hard currency of science and when allowed and even fostered leads more directly to truth. Sure there are pitfalls to transparency but the opposite is more dangerous. Let the persuasive arguments prevail.
    Distinguish Scientifically Relevant and Socially Relevant Transparency
    Kevin Elliott, PhD | Michigan State University
    It's great to see the editors of JAMA grappling with these difficult issues. David Resnik and I have recently argued that when thinking about the topic of transparency, it's useful to distinguish the kinds of transparency that are likely to be most helpful for scientific experts from the kinds of transparency that are likely to be most helpful for non-specialists (1).

    As this JAMA editorial nicely points out, forms of data transparency that could be helpful to other scientific experts could at times be counterproductive for non-specialists if the data are reinterpreted in misleading ways that cause confusion. But
    there are other challenges involved in promoting useful transparency for non-specialists. When data and other forms of scientific information are released, they are typically of little use to non-specialists unless there are other groups (e.g., government agencies, NGOs, or academic scientists) who help make sense of the information and highlight the "take-home lessons" that matter to various stakeholders. Thus, it's not enough just to call for transparency or open science; we need to be developing systems of policies and institutions that make this information useful to those who want to make use of it--and of course, this system needs to include mechanisms for combating the disinformation campaigns that have now become so common.


    1. Making Open Science Work for Science and Society.