ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 6. Data Management Practices
It is widely agreed that research data should be shared, but deciding when and with whom raises questions that are sometimes difficult to answer.
Researchers are not expected to and in most instances should not release preliminary data, that is, data that have not been carefully checked and validated. The one exception to this rule would be preliminary data that could potentially benefit the public. A researcher who has strong preliminary indications of a major threat to public health, such as unexpected side effects from a drug or an unrecognized environmental health problem, may have good reason to share this information with the public and other researchers before it is fully validated. Data that have no immediate public benefit, such as the discovery of a basic scientific process that could eventually lead to public benefits, in most instances is best held until the researcher is confident that the results will stand.
Researchers can withhold confirmed or validated data until they have had time to establish their priority for their work through publication or, in rare cases, a public announcement. They do not have to release data on a day-to-day or experiment-to-experiment basis for other researchers to use, even though this might speed the advance of knowledge. Provided no agreements have been made to the contrary, keeping data confidential prior to publication is a commonly accepted practice that most researchers and funding agencies accept.
Once a researcher has published the results of an experiment, it is generally expected that all the information about that experiment, including the final data, should be freely available for other researchers to check and use. Some journals formally require that the data published in articles be available to other researchers upon request or stored in public databases. In the specific case of federally funded research that is used in setting policies that have the effect of law, research data must be made available in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (OMB, Circular A-110). There is, in other words, considerable support for sharing data with other researchers and the public unless there are compelling reasons for confidentiality.