Should there be “data authors?” Q&A with NEJM editor Jeffrey Drazen

Jeffrey Drazen ©2011 Jon Chomitz Photography 3 Prescott street, Somerville, MA 02143 617.625.6789
Jeffrey Drazen ©2011 Jon Chomitz Photography

Would designating a set of authors as responsible for data production – separate from those who conduct the analysis – help boost the reliability of papers? That’s a question raised by the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Jeffrey Drazen. Along with many other editors of top medical journals, Drazen recently signed a proposal by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors to require authors of clinical trials to share anonymous patient data within six months of publication. He talked to us about another way to make trials more robust: Create “data authors.”

Retraction Watch: What has been the reaction so far to ICMJE’s data sharing proposal?

Jeffrey Drazen: We have received just over 100 responses so far. We are encouraged by the feedback, and we need more responses to have a representative sample of the research, physician, and patient communities.

RW: Has anything about the public’s reaction to the proposal surprised you?

JD: The over one hundred responses received so far have covered a broad range of opinions. We hope for more.

RW: You have an interesting suggestion for how to boost the reliability of data sets – create “data authors.” What are they, exactly?

JD: Data authors are those who design a trial, and then accrue and curate the data.

RW: Why is splitting responsibility for the data production and data analysis between different sets of authors going to boost the quality and reliability of data?

JD: This approach allows high quality data to be collected, and then allows different approaches to analysis. We would expect that a data user would be able to replicate the outcomes as originally published.

RW: When you suggest the idea of “data authors,” how do other scientists typically react?

JD: There has been a wide range of responses, from enthusiasm to skepticism. We hope to come up with a variety of opinions and, from these opinions, determine the best way forward.

RW: Would data authors be listed as authors on the paper? If not, how can we academically recognize their efforts?

JD: This is one proposal in play — we look forward to other suggestions.

RW: You co-authored an NEJM editorial raising the concern that data sharing could create “research parasites,” who poach other researchers’ productivity by building on their hard-earned data. The concept gathered a big reaction (#researchparasites is now a popular hashtag on Twitter) – were you surprised by the reaction?

JD: We knew this is a sensitive area, and the editorial brought into the open what had been simmering under the surface. What we now have is an opportunity to have an open and frank discussion about data sharing. This is all about the patients. This is all about disease. We can’t let it be about anything else.

Click here to submit feedback on the proposed ICMJE guidelines on the website before April 18, 2016.

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