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Nature Cell Biology joins call for microattribution of datasets

Nature Cell Biology (11,1273; 2009) joins in the call for ‘microattribution’ in its November Editorial, stating that reference datasets should be accessible independently of scientific papers in a citable form. The problem, from a cell biological perspective:

“Scholarly publication remains essential for describing and contextualizing findings, but it is inadequate as the only document of research activity. Most journals require a significant conceptual advance, and format constraints typically allow only for the presentation of representative qualitative, or statistically processed quantitative data. Consequently, the majority of raw data never emerges from lab hard drives, and a wealth of information, hard work and funding is wasted. High throughput platforms generate reams of data that cannot be captured in traditional papers. Moreover, methods sections fail to adequately describe metadata essential for the comparison and reproduction of experiments. Databases are essential for comprehensively archiving both published and unpublished data, but have only become fully integrated into the scientific process in a few cases, such as DNA sequencing and microarray data. For many types of data, including light microscopy, no databases exist at all. "

Prepublication deposition into databases is relatively new to biology, but is essential, according to the Editorial, whether or not some embargo condition is imposed by authors, funders or publishers. Journals, in their turn, need to systematically link online to data and other material in databases, in order to remain relevant. The Editorial concludes that “Large reference datasets that benefit the wider community and that cannot be analysed efficiently by the data producers should enter the public domain without delay, as long as appropriate attribution and credit can and is given. Scientific culture has to change so that data is valued alongside publications.”

See also: ‘Accreditation and attribution in data sharing’ by Gudmundur A. Thorisson of the Department of Genetics, Leicester, UK (Correspondence to Nature Biotechnology 27, 984-985; November 2009).

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