The debate stimulated interest in revisiting the core principles that underlie community standards, the accepted practices for sharing data, software, and materials that are specific to different disciplines of the life sciences. One might presume that community standards were established long ago and are therefore widely recognized and agreed on, given that scientific publication has existed for more than 3 centuries. This is true in some, but not all, areas of biology. For example, in systematic and evolutionary biology, there are certain widely accepted standards that are routinely observed. In many more recent, rapidly expanding fields, this is not the case. Rapid changes in the life sciences in recent years have led to:

  • Disagreement and uncertainty about the responsibilities of authors to share data and materials.

  • A sense that, in practice, publication-related materials and data are not always readily available to researchers who desire access to them.

  • Suggestions that standards for sharing are not being enforced.

  • Controversy over seemingly different application of journal policies to different authors.

  • Questions about how standards and policies apply to various types of data and materials, such as large databases and software.

  • Suggestions that standards for sharing may be in conflict with federal legislation that encourages commercialization of the results of federally funded research.

  • The prospect that new legal protections for databases, particularly in Europe, will complicate the development of comprehensive and consistent standards.

  • Uncertainty as to whether academic investigators should be treated differently from industry investigators with regard to the provision of access to their publication-related data or materials.

To address these concerns, the National Research Council created, in October 2001, the Committee on Responsibilities of Authorship in the Biological Sciences, whose members were chosen from academe and the commercial sector for their expertise in the life sciences

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