Earlier this month Journal of Ecology and the other BES journals introduced a new data archiving policy stating that all future articles accepted for publication will be published with the requirement that data used for the results will be made publicly accessible. This means that once a paper is accepted in one of the BES journals authors will be required to deposit sufficient data to allow each result in the published paper to be recreated and the analyses reported in the paper to be replicated to support the conclusions made. Not all papers contain data, and some authors are able to include all the data in the tables and figures in the paper. However, for those papers with more data than can be included in the paper, authors will be required to make the data available by deposition in a data repository that guarantees public access and permanent storage. When data are deposited the journals will expect authors to ensure that adequate meta-data accompanies their data deposit so that a third party can reasonably interpret those data correctly. Further details on this requirement can be found on the BES website.
One of the main functions of peer-reviewed journals like Journal of Ecology and the other BES journals is to provide readers with published articles that have been through a rigorous evaluation process by experts and that have, as a result, been given a scientific ’stamp of approval’. The only way to truly verify the results of a research paper is to analyse the original data or replicate the study. However, without access to the original data, results cannot be verified through reanalysis. In addition to allowing verification of study results, sharing data has other benefits to the scientific community. In particular, it allows data to be used for new purposes, including, reanalysis using new statistical techniques or to address new questions, inclusion of data in meta-analyses, and use in teaching. Thus, calls have been made for authors to provide access to their data in publicly accessible repositories that ensure long-term preservation of the data. With the new data archiving policy the BES journals are leading the way in responding to these calls from the ecological community.
This policy follows on from a number of high-profile evolution journals that approved a ‘Joint Data Archiving Policy’ (JDAP) in 2010 (Whitlock et al., 2010) and implemented data archiving mandates for papers published in their journals. Authors interested in further advice on data archiving are advised to read Mike Whitlock’s article ‘Data archiving in ecology and evolution: best practices’ (Whitlock, 2011).
To facilitate the deposition of ecological data, all of the BES journals have integrated with the Dryad data repository. In recognition of the importance of data archiving to the BES the Society is sponsoring deposits made in this archive. However, there is no requirement that authors use this specific repository for their data. Authors should pick the repository that is best suited to their type of data and is most useful to the ecological community likely to access their data. A list of the most commonly used repositories for ecological data is available on the BES website.
Authors are able to request that their data be embargoed for up to 12 months at the time of depositing. Longer embargo periods can be granted at the editors’ discretion. These embargoes will provide protection of data which, if placed in the public domain, may jeopardise further publications. For sensitive data relating to endangered species or protected locations, authors can transform locality details. In rare situations where authors have limited rights to use of data (e.g., proprietary data), or when data access is politically or culturally-sensitive, editors can waive the archiving requirement.
This policy affects all papers submitted to Journal of Ecology since 6 January. As these papers start to be published readers will find a ‘Data accessibility’ section in each paper which will include details of where data associated with the articles can be found. The location of the data will also be included in the reference list, with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) if available, making access to the data easy, and future citation of the data trackable via the Data Citation Index on the Web of Knowledge, thus providing authors with further acknowledgement for the research that they are doing.
In implementing this policy the BES are aware of issues that continue to concern the community. There are currently limitations in making the many forms of ecological data searchable and retrievable. It is hoped that community standards will emerge to facilitate the sharing of ecological data, including the development of standards for data re-use and citation. The quality of data deposited and, in particular, the metadata accompanying it, need to improve for the true value of data to be appreciated. It will be important for researchers to trust that the people accessing their data will treat it with respect and adhere to ethical guidelines and community expectations.
The BES hopes the introduction of its new data archiving policy will encourage greater openness from the ecological community, and that increased access to data will play a significant role in advancing the field for future generations.
Deputy Head of Publications, British Ecological Society
Whitlock, M.C. (2011) Data archiving in ecology and evolution: best practices. Trends Ecol. Evol. 26, 61-65.
Whitlock, M. C., McPeek, M. A., Rausher, M. D., Rieseberg, L. & Moore, A. J. (2010) Data archiving. American Naturalist 175, 145–146.