Data withholding in genetics and the other life sciences: prevalences and predictors

Acad Med. 2006 Feb;81(2):137-45. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200602000-00006.


Purpose: To better understand the variety and prevalence of data withholding in genetics and the other life sciences and to explore factors associated with these behaviors.

Method: In 2000, a sample of 2,893 geneticists and other life scientists (OLS) at the 100 most research-intensive universities in the United States were surveyed concerning data withholding and sharing. The instrument was developed and pretested in 1999. The two primary outcome measures were withholding in verbal exchanges with colleagues about unpublished research (verbal withholding) and withholding as part of the publishing process (publishing withholding). The independent variables related to the personal characteristics, research characteristics of faculty, and previous experience with data withholding.

Results: A total of 1,849 faculty responded (64%): 1,240 geneticists and 600 OLS. Forty-four percent of geneticists and 32% of OLS reported participating in any one of 13 forms of data withholding in the three previous years. Publishing withholding (geneticists 35%, OLS 25%) was more frequent than verbal withholding (geneticists 23%, OLS 12%). In multivariate analyses, male gender, participation in relationships with industry, mentors' discouraging data sharing, receipt of formal instruction in data sharing, and negative past experience with sharing were significantly associated with either verbal or publishing withholding among either geneticists or OLS.

Conclusions: Data withholding is common in biomedical science, takes multiple forms, is influenced by a variety of characteristics of investigators and their training, and varies by field of science. Encouraging openness during the formative experiences of young investigators may be critical to increased data sharing, but the effects of formal training do not appear straightforward.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information*
  • Adult
  • Biological Science Disciplines / education
  • Biological Science Disciplines / statistics & numerical data*
  • Biomedical Research / trends*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Confidentiality
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Data Collection
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Female
  • Genetics / education
  • Genetics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Male
  • Research Personnel / psychology*
  • United States
  • Universities