Last Wednesday, the editors of the leading medical journals around the world made a proposal that could change medical science forever.
The editor’s stance, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is that researchers must make public all study data in order to publish results in their journals. The authors argued that widespread data sharing will increase trust in study results and conclusions, enable the independent verification of findings, lead to the development and testing of new hypotheses, eliminate unnecessarily duplicative work, and fulfill the moral obligation to study participants and patients. Authors of the editorial belong to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), members of which include New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), The Lancet, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and other highly regarded medical journals. What was not evident for readers and listeners of mainstream media was the social media storm that met this editorial, also published in NEJM, expressing concern that making data public would open the flood gates to “research parasites,” — “people who had nothing to do with the design and execution of the study but use another group’s data for their own ends.” As Larry Husten, author of the blog Cardiobrief, put it, “the response was brutal,” and the NEJM’s flip-flop reaction swift: within days, Jeffrey Drazen, MD, co-author of the editorial and editor-in-chief of NEJM, backed down, writing that the journal “is committed to data sharing in the setting of clinical trials” and that “we believe there is a moral obligation to the people who volunteer to participate in these trials to ensure that their data are widely and responsibly used.”