Sharing Data Prior to Publication. What Would You Do?

A researcher, speaking at a conference, presents two sets of results based on two related datasets. He references a paper that he published recently, describing in great detail the first set of results based on the first dataset. This paper mentions the second dataset but does not discuss the results based on it. A colleague attending the conference asks for a copy of both datasets. The researcher is pleased to deliver the first set of data, but does not want to turn over the second until he has had time to prepare another paper, describing results based on that dataset, and had it accepted for publication. Is the researcher justified in withholding the second dataset until he has published his results?



The researcher is justified in withholding the data until it is accepted for publication. If the researcher has no prior interactions or detailed knowledge of the colleague (and therefore does not know what this colleague would do with the data), it is reasonable to withhold data until the data and the interpretation of the data has been subjected to peer-review. Possibly, if the researcher has an ongoing professional interaction with the colleague and trusts the colleague to keep the results confidential, then sharing of the data could be considered.

It seems plain to me that the researcher has no obligation to share research data with which he/she is currently working with the intent to prepare the work for publication. It would be fine for him/her to wait to provide data to others once the work was in press or published.


In general, a researcher has no moral or legal obligation to share raw data from a study that has not been published. However, there might be special circumstances in which a moral and/or legal obligation would be in place - for example, the funding agency or the researcher's institution might require such sharing.

In response to similar hypothetical cases, some have made the point that sharing the data would be morally obligatory if such sharing were sure to prevent serious harm or death to people, perhaps because sharing would accelarate the development of a life-saving drug, or end a clinical trial early because the data prove that the experimental drug is very dangerous. I accept this argument, but I doubt that it occurs very often in the real world.

Ken Pimple



Absolutely, the researcher has no obligation to share unpublished data, unless the colleague will interpret the results and as such should then be a co-author on the publication.

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