An article published in the BMJ pushed for open data-sharing from Cochrane, a non-profit company that maintains a library of medical research data for use by healthcare professionals, patients, and policy makers.

Cochrane is registered as a charity and is largely publicly funded; much of its data extraction and systematic review work is done by volunteers. However, Cochrane’s current policies allow only specific individuals with full library access to view and reuse data reports in their entirety. Cochrane has declined to allow data sharing for reuse through OpenTrials or the Trip Database library. However, data sharing is essential to transparency in research, the investigators wrote, and is associated with “increased citations…publications, and [data] reuse for new purposes.” In addition, improved access to existing data allows investigators to refine extraction processes and explore “new avenues of inquiry.”

It is likely that Cochrane’s current policies are not reflective of its clientele, the investigators wrote. When surveyed, 83% of council members from the Cochrane Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis Methods Group supported systematic review data sharing. In addition, many funding sources for grants explicitly encourage public availability of data subsidized by their grants. Cochrane volunteers also give consent for their reviews to be shared prior to publication and may be unaware of the access restrictions placed on their work, the researchers wrote. Open science policies represent the intentions of research personnel, funding sources, and Cochrane volunteers alike.

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If Cochrane is to solidify its position as a “hub for systematic review data,” open sharing is a worthwhile investment. Transparency in the research landscape can improve patient care and medical knowledge, as well as foster a collaborative environment in the sciences. As a company with a vast workforce, Cochrane has the capacity to lead the “open science” endeavor. Although there may be commercial incentives to remain privatized, the investigators encouraged Cochrane to enact open sharing policies, so that collaboration, data reproducibility, and research endeavors may evolve as scientific innovation does.  

Reference

Shokraneh F, Adams CE, Clarke M, et al. Why Cochrane should prioritize sharing data [published online July 30, 2018]. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.k3229