Open data: A role for publishers…. or for journal editors?

Comment on the paper by Jennifer Lin and Carly Strasser, Plos Biology, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001975:

Recommendations for the Role of Publishers in Access to Data

The paper by Lin and Strasser addresses a very important point. Institutions and journal editors are getting increasingly aware of the importance of open data as a full scientific production that needs be made available for re-use, and for quality control in support of published papers.This is an important issue, and Annals of Forest Science addressed it by creating a data-paper section, and by inciting authors to make their data available to others.

Unfortunately, I see an important ambiguity in the whole paper that requires some clarification. It is that we never know whether the actors behind data sharing should be the “publishers” (i.e., Elsevier, Springer, Francis and Taylor, Nature publishing group, etc) or the journal editors (i.e., the scientists in charge of the editorial policy of the journal and the warrants of the scientific quality of the published material). I strongly believe that this is issue, as well as the issue of the ethics in scientific publication, is a central duty of the journal editors and not just of the publishers. The procedures for submission and evaluation, the guidelines and rules for access and for the data repositiories should be a major concerns for the scientists in charge of the editorial policy of the journals, and the publishers should act in support of this policy. Otherwise, we would rapidly run into the classical conflict of interest which is already visible to date for the publication of papers: publishers need to publish to make their economic model run. Scientists need to publish relevant and solid stuff including data sets. I will not list again the concerns raised by many scientists about the policy of publishers towards the publication business.

This confusion is a real problem, and I would urge the authors of the cited “recommendations” to clarify this point. Actually, the solution would rely on a tight cooperation between editors (who should take the lead and develop editorial policies for their journals) and the publishers (who may bring an added value due to their expertise in publication techniques and data management systems). Indeed, the solution lies in a clear and transparent cooperation between editors and publishers, each with his aims and responsibilities to avoid future conflicts of interest.

Erwin Dreyer, Editor of Annals of Forest Science, Inra Nancy (France).

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