Ethics{0}

The title of the case I studied in the ORI scholarly integrity website website is “Data sharing fever” which is essentially the case of data acquisition and management.

The case is about a postdoctoral scholar named Mary who is also preparing herself to seek an assistant professor position. She is working on the NIH funded project with her postdoctoral advisor Henry who is also very pioneer for the fever treatments due to infections disease.

On their project they have succeeded to create a giant and precious data base that was ever collected tracking different infectious agents. Mary’s contribution is mainly due to her big effort on assisting to collect the data. Henry’s analysis suggest that alternative medicines is very effective for certain kind of infections but they don’t have effective impact on other kinds of infections. Henry is about to finalize his analysis and submit his manuscript and Mary would be the co-author because of her contribution on the project.

Mary who is preparing her self for the assistant professor positions is trying to write her research statement for her job applications. In her research statement she is claiming to use other approaches and methods to do the analysis on the same data set. She is also trying to write the project proposal to get the grant from NIH. Hence she is asking for Henry’s permission to use the dataset and Henry doesn’t seem to be very pleased mainly because he is not willing to share the dataset before publishing his own work.

Since Mary has access to the dataset she thinks its ethical to look more closely on the dataset and she spends quite a lot of time to look on the dataset and also on Henry’s analysis and there she finds out that Henry has excluded some important data from the dataset on to his analysis which can change the results of analysis significantly. Of course this doesn’t indicate any falsification of data since Henry has explained in detail the justification for the exclusion of some parts of data from their dataset on to the analysis. Mary has obtained very precious knowledge on the dataset as well as Henry’s analysis that can lead to the new therapies to treat fever. She feels so excited about her findings which can also have impact on her future results and NIH project. However, she has many concerns how to discuss this with her advisor.

Several questions can be raised here;

  • when is the right time to share the dataset? Before publication or after the publication?
  • Who owns the dataset? NIH? Public? Henry? Henry and collaborators?
  • Is it ethical that Mary looks in to the dataset more closely and Henry’s analysis? Should she share her understanding with her advisor?
  • If Henry doesn’t share the dataset before publication is this in conflict with the NIH research policy about sharing biomedical resources?

Here, I totally understand the Henry’s concerns about his work. The fact that he has put a precious effort and time collecting a very valuable dataset can not be denied. On the other hand we see that he has missed some understanding on the dataset that if he doesn’t share the dataset with others it can harm the result of the analysis. On the other way Mary has a contribution on the project since she has assisted on collecting the dataset but she wants to involve the dataset as part of her future research and get some project funding with that. So, its very controvericial when is the right time for sharing the dataset and should Mary uses the dataset before Henry’s publication. Which is ethical to proceed? To leave Henry with his understanding and analysis or engage him with the new prospective of the dataset that Mary found.