Massachusetts General Hospital on Data Withholding

The Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard teaching affiliate, has just released the latest in a series of publications discussing data withholding, concluding that:

"Data withholding clearly has important negative effects on the integrity of the scientific education system in the U.S."

In some of the medical areas, there are at least occasionally patent or commercial issues. No such excuses exist in climate science.

In 2000, they reported the following:

Secrecy in academic science: young, productive researchers most likely to be denied data

Although open sharing of the results of research is an underlying principle of modern science, the reality is that researchers sometimes withhold the results of their work either by delaying publication in scientific journals or by refusing requests from other researchers for access to data or materials. In the February 2000 issue of Research Policy, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute for Health Policy and Harvard Medical School report a survey of scientists around the country on the topic of data withholding. They found that those most likely to be victims of data withholding were scientists who were just starting out in the profession, those who were highly productive, or those involved with commercial activities. In addition, scientists who had a history of denying their own data to others were more likely to have their requests for information refused.

In 2002, they announced another report:

While it is generally acknowledged that the progress of science depends on the free exchange of resources and knowledge, a new study finds that data, materials and information are often kept secret in academic genetics. "The ability to reproduce science is important," says Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D., of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School. "When people don’t share published resources, it may slow the rate of scientific advance." Campbell is first author of the report appearing in the January 23 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, again in 2006, they have announced another article in the same vein:

Massachusetts General HospitalStudies examine withholding of scientific data among researchers, trainees

Relationships with industry, competitive environments associated with research secrecy
Open sharing of information is a basic principle of the scientific process, but it is well known that secrecy has become a fact of life in academic science. Several studies have described how researchers may withhold the results of their studies from other scientists or deny them access to data or materials. In two new reports, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute for Health Policy examine a broader range of withholding behaviors among life scientists than previously reported and describe how data withholding is affecting researchers in several fields during their training years. The papers appear in the February 2006 issue of Academic Medicine.

"Secrecy in science reduces the efficiency of the scientific enterprise by making it harder for colleagues to build on each other’s work," said David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, director of the Institute for Health Policy. "Secrecy cannot be totally eliminated; but to minimize it, we need to understand it better. That was the purpose of this work."…

"Data withholding clearly has important negative effects on the integrity of the scientific education system in the U.S.," says Eric Campbell, PhD, of the MGH Institute for Health Policy, who led the trainees study. "Failure to address this issue could result in less effective training programs, an erosion of the sense of shared purpose and a general culture of scientific secrecy in the future."


  1. John A
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 4:37 PM | Permalink

    Yes, but the only reason you want my data is because you want to discredit it. I refuse to be intimidated into revealing my data to people outside of my own profession. That’s just what people like you want to do. Why haven’t you done your own construction before you start scrutinizing mine? Are you associated with skeptics? The source code is my personal property. My work has already been peer-reviewed in quality scientific journals. Other studies confirm my results. How can you believe that we’ve all collaborated to prevent publication of other reports that pretend to show my work invalid? Are you some kind of paranoid conspiracy nut? These practices are the norm for this scientific discipline. My latest data is password protected until we announce our latest results and to keep it from being misused by big business. Didn’t you co-write with someone who made a calculation error in another paper? Your work has already been discredited in a paper independently written by one of my PhD students. The science is already settled and its time to move on. Just ignore the requests from Congress – they’re not scientists and they’re on the take from big business anyway.

  2. Dennis
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

    #1 That was a joke, right?

  3. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 5:28 PM | Permalink

    Sadly, it’s more of a summary of what Steve McIntyre has run into.

  4. Ray Soper
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 5:44 PM | Permalink

    #2 Are you new to this site Dennis??

  5. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 8:14 PM | Permalink

    Dennis – check this list of actual excuses Top Fifteen Reasons that I posted last March. Also look at my correspondence with Science, Nature, NSF etc. John A has added adjectives in his rendering. I think that the addition is unnecessary and detracts a little from the force of the actual words of the authors, which speak so loudly by themselves.

  6. The Knowing One
    Posted Jan 26, 2006 at 2:05 AM | Permalink

    The cited announcement from 2006 references a study in Academic Medicine. The abstract for that study says the following.

    In 2003, the authors surveyed 1077 second-year doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in life sciences at 50 U.S. universities, with a comparison group of trainees in computer science and chemical engineering. … … Two hundred forty-six trainees (23.0%) reported that they had asked for and been denied access to information, data, materials, or programming associated with published research and 221 (20.6%) to unpublished research. … Five hundred thirty-three trainees (50.8%) reported that withholding had had a negative effect on the progress of their research, 508 (48.5%) on the rate of discovery in their lab/research group, 472 (45.0%) on the quality of their relationships with academic scientists….

    A link to the article is here (WordPress is screwing up hyperlinks for some reason):

  7. John A
    Posted Jan 26, 2006 at 4:04 AM | Permalink

    Re: #2,3,4,5

    Actually my comment was a concatenation of all the ludicrous excuses given by the Hockey Team in response to perfectly reasonable requests for data and methodology for the purposes of audit and replication, and by acolytes excusing the censorship of contradicting evidence, by implying that Steve and Ross are part of some global conspiracy, or are conspiracy nuts themselves.

    All of these excuses come around so frequently, that I wonder if the weblog should have been called “Climate Groundhog Day”

    What’s interesting is that witholding data and methodology appears to be rife in other sciences, where in the absence of obvious material reasons, senior researchers feel threatened that some inferior wants to see the basis of their already published work.

    John Hunter is a classic example of the genre. This is from comments made on July and Aug 2005:

    if Steve asked me for password privileges to my site, I would most probably say “no” “¢’‚¬? he has no right to that data and I would strongly suspect that he would use it in a way that would be unhelpful to my work (I have never seen him show any desire for collaborative research with other climate scientists).


    If I wanted to access the SO&P data, I would have to give the SO&P scientists some reason why I wanted the data. I do not at present want the data for my own research (if I did, that would be a different matter). If I gave as my reason the fact that Steve McIntyre was using this as a test …… well what do you think their answer would be, or should be? For my own part, I am not prepared to waste these scientists’ time.”


    If the funding agency, the data owner and the publisher do not demand that data related to published work is made freely available, then there is no a-priori reason why it should be. You may whine as much as you like about the meaning of “science”, but the fact remains that, unless there are specific rulings, authors have every right to keep their data to themselves. However, they do of course generally provide their data freely to bona-fide researchers, once they have published most of what they want from the data.


    Steve McIntyre refuses to do any “good science” “¢’‚¬? he only audits “¢’‚¬? he will not produce his own paleoclimate reconstruction. The fact that he won’t just begs the question “¢’‚¬? what is his motivation? I don’t think this question is “irrelevant” “¢’‚¬? and even if it was “irrelevant”, I still find it interesting.


    So “¢’‚¬? I guess the bottom line is, if someone asked me out the blue that they wanted processed data or software so that they could “audit” it, I’d probably say “no”. However if some spirit of collaboration was involved and we could all benefit, then it would be a very different matter

  8. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 26, 2006 at 8:55 AM | Permalink

    #7. They never cease to amaze, do they?

  9. MarkW
    Posted Feb 29, 2008 at 5:48 AM | Permalink

    I am also gobsmacked by his utter dismissal of auditing. His attitude seems to be, I’ve had a couple of my friends look it over. They didn’t find any problems, so the issue is settled.

  10. Posted Jan 10, 2009 at 9:48 AM | Permalink

    Yes, many scientists are going behind money than fame. If his discoveries are published in reputed scientific journals, he will get reputation among universities and research institutions for improving his career. But it seems those scientists hiding the data may be trying to get patents for their works in commercial exploitation of his work.

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