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RS Publishing responds

In the wake of my posting about the changes in the Royal Society Publishing's policy on data openness, I wrote to the man in charge, Dr Stuart Taylor asking for his comments and specifically what prompted the change. I'm grateful to Dr Taylor for a full and thorough response, which I am posting here with permission.

There is certainly no intention on our part to "weaken our policy," nor have we received any representations from anyone asking us to modify it. What you read on our website simply provides more information that the earlier instruction and the intention was, in fact, to tighten the policy from the rather briefer earlier wording by asking our authors to state, at the time of submission any conditions of data sharing that might apply. The change was approved by our Publishing Board in October 2008 in the light of Briffa et al and Matthews et al.

The proof of any policy is in its implementation, as I am sure you will agree. The fact that there exist discipline-specific conventions does not mean that we are any less strict in obtaining data when requested. In fact, I notice that you qualified your initial post later:

"I've edited the main post shortly after posting it as I'd missed the fact that they were still saying that requests had to be complied with..."

I disagree that it is contradictory - as there has been no "watering down." Our policy on data sharing has been widely praised and is something that most of the commercial publishers do not have in their publishing policies. As the UK's national academy, I believe we should be setting an example in this area and I would not accept an article from authors who sought to keep their data private without a very strong case indeed. So your question about how we would flag such articles is somewhat hypothetical.

Please be assured that this policy "has teeth" and we take its implementation seriously. A good case in point was the Matthews article in 2008.

But if I have not managed to persuade you, please don't hesitate to contact me again by phone or email and I shall be happy to discuss the issue further.

I have replied to Dr Taylor that the policy still reads as though it has weakened, but that I am happy to take him at his word that I am mistaken and that the policy still has teeth.

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Reader Comments (21)

"has teeth"

and so did the crocodile in Peter Pan

Apr 19, 2011 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

Right! Sure thing! Solid as the Irish pound.

Apr 19, 2011 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

"...I am happy to take him at his word..."

Well, considering Nullius in Verba, I think you mean to say you agree with Dr Taylor that "the proof of any policy is in its implementation".

From what I remember of the Keith Briffa affair, Briffa eventually honoured the agreement and did release the data he worked with but his efforts and the time span could not possibly be considered reasonable by any standards.

Reading Stuart Taylor's response, it seems to me the new policy is a more forceful and detailed enunciation of the old one. More like 'laying down the law' for future publications. We shall see.

Apr 19, 2011 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Agree with sHx. I guess for some discplines, it may be justifiable, so something like nuclear physics. For others, commercial sensitivity or IP rights may be less so, but we shall see.

Apr 19, 2011 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Atomic Hairdryer

For others, commercial sensitivity or IP rights may be less so, but we shall see.

Science requires full disclosure. In the case of a IP rights issue, such as the results of the testing of a new drug, there is still full disclosure to a impartial (hopefully!) third party governmental agency such as the FDA who do see the data in detail.

However, when it comes to "research" with trillion dollar (or pound) impact on the economies of the world, such as "Climate Science" then it must be complete and total disclosure to all interested parties, even if they are in opposition.

I find the RSP "standard" mealy mouth and open to too much "interpretation." It should be: "when you publish in our magazines, it is conditional on you fully disclosing your data, your procedures for collecting and analyzing them , what computer programs you used, what were the parameters you used in full, and if the program is not commercially available, then the sources of the programs as used are to be made openly available."

Secondly, RSP should have a repository of their own to store these items in a FTP system. Given that I can buy a 2 TB drive for a few hundred quid, that is not too much to ask of them. That way the items are under third party control.

Apr 19, 2011 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Come on guys, Dr Stuart Taylor at least had the decency to reply to the Bish! Time will tell and we should take the high ground, as I believe the sceptics always have and see what happens. Simply save the reply for future use....... < Sarc!

Apr 19, 2011 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Don Pablo

I broadly agree but can think of some cases where there could be good grounds for non or limited disclosure, ie it's classified or has security implications. I also agree that for climate science, given the national and international interest there should be full disclosure by default, and the same should be true for public funded research.

IPR though has been used as an excuse by some climate scientists and there may be times when it's more justifiable. Some seems to be an academic funding problem, ie balancing a need to publish with a need to make money. Some papers read like advertorials for the startup that's spun out of the research and even with patent protection may not want full disclosure. Those I guess will have to decide if they want the academic kudos for being published in an RSP journal, or limited disclosure by publishing elsewhere.

Apr 19, 2011 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

The issue seems to be with scientific papers, particularly but not limited to climatology, which have huge political implications. The reticence of some scientists to give away data which they have personally collected and which they could use to produce the papers required to justify their wage packet is easily understood in the context of human nature and perhaps a relatively easy thing to overlook on the periphery of science but with so much money being thrown at climatology and so much of the comfort and standard of living we take for granted being, apparently, conditional on the findings of a handful of unaccountable coy innumerates, the standards of disclosure must match the weight of implication being claimed for the corresponding work.

Apr 19, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

Seems fair....ish.

"The proof of any policy is in its implementation, as I am sure you will agree. " True, but there is no harm in spelling it out as best one can.

Full marks for communication, at least.

Apr 19, 2011 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Presumably Briffa will be pleased to have been cited in this manner, as being responsible for generating a change in policy by the Royal Society. I don't think anybody should be allowed to forget it, least of all Briffa himself.

ps what the hell did Matthews do? He is cited twice!

Apr 19, 2011 at 6:02 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

"Full marks for communication, at least."--Jack Savage

I agree. Dr Taylor's full, fast, and thorough response is laudable.

Apr 19, 2011 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Atomic Hairdryer

While I agree national security is a legitimate concern, the RSP should not be dealing with such research. In the US there is DARPA and a bunch of publications you never saw because they would have to shoot you if you even saw the cover to handle that research. Others, such as MILCOM are a bit less paranoid. They actually have publicly available journals, paid for mainly by the old KGB and GRU.

Some papers read like advertorials for the startup that's spun out of the research and even with patent protection may not want full disclosure. Those I guess will have to decide if they want the academic kudos for being published in an RSP journal, or limited disclosure by publishing elsewhere.

You raise an interesting question, and that is the IP rights. Most universities require all staff members to sign over all such rights, but even then it is my belief that any search -- including those in the realm of national security research -- belong to the public if any public money is invested.

There are plenty of very rich people -- called venture capitalists -- who invest in such research for profit and I assure you that they know everything about that research there is to know. I know because I have worked of a VC firm and was one of the ferrets sent in to check things out. I assure you "OH -- We can't tell you that!" would cause an instantaneous cancellation of the contract of the researcher involved and that person would never work in a start up again. I have seen it.

I think publicly funded research should have the same rules as apply to VC start ups -- WE OWN YOU!

I do not think people should end up with the results of work paid for by the public. If they want to kept the rights, let them figure out some other method, -- or make a deal with the VC investors. You can still end up with billions like Steve Job did. I know a number of people who made their pile through that mechanism.

Apr 19, 2011 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

You should ask Taylor what he thinks about Jones and company's latest publication based on proxies that haven't been archived.

Apr 19, 2011 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I presume Taylor's doctorate is in faerie stories.

Apr 19, 2011 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterEpigenes

The trouble is people remember how the Royal Society allowed CRU to hind under its wings , when it turned out the RS had virtual nothing to with the so called independent investigation it was suppose to be ruining ,it turned out that did do was just rubber stamped what CRU told it . And as for the RS leaders comments on the Oxburgh panels awful job, in what way it was a “Blinder Well Played” remains a mystery. And then there is the forced rewrite of the RS’s AGW stance , thanks to a members revolt not inspired leadership.

In the light of this I am sure Dr Taylor will understand if we follow the RS own approach and not just take their word for it.

Apr 19, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I´m still curious as to why their robots.txt file is now locked down in the way that it is (excluding, e.g., the Wayback Machine).

Apr 19, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

They might head each paper "By this man's word".

Apr 19, 2011 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

I believe him. Simple enough, he responded plainly and openly. He doesn't sound like a shyster, or like someone with something to hide. As such, he may be wrong, or I may be, but I'm confident enough that he'd accept being proven wrong just as well as we'd hope to.

As the Bish says, if his response to 'it sounds like you've watered things down' is 'sorry if it sounds that way, but rest assured, we haven't', that's a reasonable answer. A possible interpretation of his words was raised, and he addressed it. This is all good, honest, healthy stuff - not the fetid crap emanating from certain notorious groups.

Apr 20, 2011 at 1:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterdave

| golf charley Apr 19, 2011 at 6:02 PM

"ps what the hell did Matthews do? He is cited twice!"

I was wondering too - is it something about this?

Apr 20, 2011 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPFM

An interesting post. I think the RS realise that this is a key issue and they need to be seen to be on the right side of it. A hopefull sign imo.

Apr 20, 2011 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Hmm. We'll see. I think the RS's "We recognize that discipline-specific conventions or special circumstances may occasionally apply, and we will consider these in negotiating compliance with requests" might be a get out. Didn't Jones say that he'd never been asked for supporting data prior to Climategate? It it not, therefore, a disipline-specific convention in Jones's branch of climatology not to supply data? Sorry for sounding doubtful but the RS's performance in the Oxburgh panel was awful.
"We don't have the expertise to find a typical email which is controversial but we know an independent man who does. Trevor Davies, pro vice chancellor of research at the UEA and former director of CRU.

Apr 21, 2011 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterandy mc

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