by Gustav Nilsonne and Stefan Wiens
Plos One has a data sharing policy and requires a Data Availability statement in each new article. We used Data Availability statements to investigate actual data sharing in the 20 most recent consecutive Plos One articles reporting on fMRI experiments. Whereas 15/20 articles stated that data were available, only 9 provided any individual-level data. The remaining 6 claimed that:
All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.
However, only summary data were provided. We conclude that Plos One guidelines should be more explicit about what constitutes “relevant data”, and the journal should enforce data sharing policy more consistently, and according to standardised formats.
Data sharing allows the greatest value to be gained from research data, and may be seen as an ethical obligation towards research participants. In the context of research on humans, data from individual participants are critical in order to reproduce analyses and reported findings, to combine data from several datasets, and to make the best use of the dataset for analyses of new research questions.
Plos One has a data sharing policy and requires an explicit Data Availability Statement in each new article. We wanted to tentatively investigate data availability in fMRI research on humans published in Plos One, as part of the Stockholm BrainHack 2018.
We searched the Plos One archive for articles where “fMRI” appeared in the title or abstract. We included only studies reporting fMRI research on humans. Articles were consecutively coded from 2018-05-04 backwards until 20 fMRI studies had been coded. Coding was performed by GN and SW together. The coding results are available here.
- 15/20 articles stated that the data were openly available. The remaining 5 cited ethical and legal reasons for not sharing. 3/5 stated that data were available on request.
- 9/15 articles that shared data used a repository. Repositories used were the Harvard Dataverse (n = 3), OpenNeuro (n = 2), OSF (n = 1), Figshare (n = 1), University of Queensland Repository (n = 1), and NITRC (n = 1). Data published in Harvard Dataverse, OSF, Figshare, University of Queensland Repository did not appear to follow a standard format (e.g. BIDS).
- 7/15 articles were judged to actually provide raw individual participant data. 2/7 reported re-use of existing datasets.
- 8/15 articles reported that “All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.” In 6 of these articles, no data with individual participant measures were provided. In the remaining 2 articles, summary results with individual participant measures were provided.
In thirty percent of articles reviewed here (6/20), authors claimed that relevant data were available in the article or in supporting files. However, these articles did not provide individual participant-level data. It appears that the concept of “relevant data” is open to interpretation by Plos One authors and editors.
Data published without standardisation may have limited findability and re-usability. The use of repositories with recognised field standards should be encouraged. There may be value in curating non-standardised datasets and re-publishing them in standardized formats.
Plos One guidelines should be more explicit about what constitutes “relevant data”, and the journal should enforce data sharing policy more consistently, and according to standardized formats.