PLOS Data Policy FAQ

PLOS is a nonprofit Open Access publisher, innovator and advocacy organization with a mission to lead a transformation in research communication—making it better, faster and more effective. PLOS achieves this by making scientific articles (including the underlying data) immediately and freely available to anyone, anywhere to be downloaded, printed, distributed, read, and reused without restriction as long as the author and the original source are properly attributed according to the Creative Commons Attribution License that is used. Below is an FAQ on PLOS’ data policy that will help clarify the policy and answer questions. You can read the entire data policy here and also an accompanying editorial here.

Q. Why does PLOS require that data underlying research published in PLOS journals be made publicly available?

A. PLOS strongly believes that, to best foster scientific progress, the underlying data from an article should be made freely available for researchers to use, wherever this is legal and ethical. Data availability allows validation, replication, reanalysis, new analysis, reinterpretation or inclusion into meta-analyses, facilitates reproducibility of research and extends the value of the investment made in funding scientific research. Thus, PLOS believes that ensuring access to the underlying data should be an intrinsic part of the scientific publishing process. Furthermore, by getting data into the right place upon publication PLOS can reduce the burden on authors in unearthing old data, retaining old hard drives and answering email requests.

Effective data sharing leads to more citations and should lead to more offers of co-authorship and greater opportunities. PLOS understands that some authors may not want to share data, just as some choose not to make their articles available Open Access, but PLOS believes that most authors publish their work precisely in order to allow others to benefit from it. More importantly, researchers want to see their work used and cited by others. Making that easier can benefit everyone.

Q. To what data does this policy apply?

A. The policy applies to the dataset used to reach the conclusions drawn in the manuscript with related metadata and methods and any additional data required to replicate the reported study findings in their entirety. You need not submit your entire dataset, or all raw data collected during an investigation, but you must provide the portion that is relevant to the specific study.

Q. What should I do if the PLOS Data Policy does not appear to take into account my type of data?

A. If after reviewing the policy and FAQs, you have questions about how the policy applies to your data, please contact the relevant PLOS journal or data@plos.org. PLOS will consider each situation on a case-by-case basis.

Q. How should the data be made available?

A. PLOS strongly recommends that data be made available in a public repository. Repositories may be subject-specific (eg, GenBank for sequences, clinicaltrials.gov  for clinical trials data, and PDB for structures) , general (Dryad or FigShare), or institutional, as long as DOIs or accession numbers are provided and the data are at least as open as CC BY. Alternatively, data may be made available in supporting information files (preferably in a file format from which data can be efficiently extracted) or in the manuscript itself.

Q:  What if my dataset is too large to submit to a repository?

A: For very large datasets that are difficult to deposit in a repository, PLOS encourages you to note details of your situation when submitting your data availability information to PLOS and we will work with you to find a solution.

Q. What are the exceptions to making the data publicly available?

A:

  • Data cannot be publicly available for ethical or legal reasons, e.g., public availability would compromise patient privacy, or could represent some other threat such as specific locations of fossil deposits or endangered species. Please contact us via the journal office or at data@plos.org  if you have concerns about the ethics or legality of sharing your data and they do not fit one of these criteria.
  • Data were obtained from a third party, i.e., the authors did not generate the primary dataset themselves. (This may also apply to component sets of data used as part of a meta-analysis, see below.) If this is the case, details of the source and contact information should be provided that others can use to request access.

Q. My funding agency or government law only permits sharing of human participant data with researchers with whom they have a written agreement. What should I do?

A. Please provide the contact information of the individuals and institution(s) where an interested researcher would need to apply to start the process to gain access to the data. If you have questions, please contact the relevant journal or <data@plos.org>.

Q. The national privacy standards that apply to my research would seem to prevent my publishing the research in PLOS. What should I do?

A. None of the policy is intended to overrule local regulations, legislation or ethical frameworks. However, note that authors are probably already committing to providing access to data on request when they sign agreements with many journals, not just PLOS. It is these kinds of issues that PLOS would be very keen to work with the relevant bodies to help educate researchers on their local obligations and how they might need to adapt or declare limitations on data access when they publish their work. Where these frameworks prevent or limit data release, these limitations should be made clear at the time of publication to anyone who reads the paper.

Q: I need to make my data “available on request” because of privacy concerns but my institution does not have a Data Access Committee and the IRB is not willing to take this on. What should I do?

A: While PLOS strongly believes that data should be freely available, we recognize that in some instances patient privacy or other concerns may preclude making data freely available to all, and that not all institutions have Data Access Committees at this time. If that is the case, please note details of your situation when submitting your data availability information to PLOS. PLOS is still investigating potential solutions to this issue and until we have determined a standard course of action, PLOS will work with authors for whom this presents a challenge. PLOS encourages academic institutions without a Data Access Committee to consider the importance of this function for their research and researchers.

Q: I want to run additional analyses on my dataset for future studies. What portion of my dataset do I need to make freely accessible?

A: The PLOS Data Policy states that the minimal dataset needs to be made available. The “minimal dataset” consists “of the dataset used to reach the conclusions drawn in the manuscript with related metadata and methods, and any additional data required to replicate the reported study findings in their entirety.” This does not mean that you must submit your entire dataset, or absolutely all raw data collected during an investigation, but that you must provide the portion that is relevant to the specific study.

Q. I don’t want to share my data because another researcher may “scoop” me using my dataset.

A. PLOS believes that after publication (in particular, after publication in an Open Access journal), data underlying a study should be available for reuse by others. Many institutions and funding agencies (e.g., NIH , Research Councils UK) already require data relating to publications be stored for up to ten years and to be shared with the minimal possible restrictions.

Q. What if I cannot provide accession numbers or DOIs at submission?

A. We understand that accession numbers or DOIs may not be available until a paper has been accepted, although once a decision to accept has been made, PLOS cannot proceed with publishing the paper until the accession numbers or DOIs are received.

Q. What if the data are needed for peer review but are not yet publicly available?

A. Many repositories permit private access for review purposes, and have policies for public release at publication. If this is not possible, authors can provide the data via other means, such as zipped files via email, Dropbox etc. Please contact the relevant journal office or data@plos.org for assistance.

Q: What if I am submitting an individual patient data meta-analysis?

A: For an individual patient data meta-analysis, authors should make freely available data that can be shared legally and ethically. If authors cannot share the data, they should provide information on how to access the datasets used in the study as specified under “data available on request” or “data available from third parties.”

Q. How can I make a very large amount of data available through a repository without a DOI?  

A. Authors are encouraged to provide the information they have regarding accessing the data from a repository (eg, URLs, registration numbers and other identifying information). Authors should submit their manuscript and PLOS will work with them to determine how best to present the information.

Q. I cannot afford the cost of depositing a very large amount of data. What should I do?

A. PLOS encourages authors to contact their institutions if they have difficulty providing access to the data underlying the research.  Many institutions and funding agencies (e.g., NIH , Research Councils UK) share this view and make data sharing a requirement. Regardless, authors facing these challenges are encouraged to submit their manuscript and PLOS will work with them to help find a solution.

Q. I don’t have the time or institutional infrastructure to deposit all my data. What should I do?

A. PLOS encourages you to contact your institution if you have difficulty. If you have questions, please contact the relevant journal office or data@plos.org.

Q. What if data are found to not be accessible or other issues are found after publication?

A. As is our current policy, PLOS will follow up with the authors and take action as necessary. PLOS reserve the right to issue corrections, notifications or retractions when authors do not comply with our policies.

Q. My paper was under consideration at PLOS before March 3, 2014. Does it need to adhere to the new policy? 

A. Manuscripts submitted prior to March 3rd will not be required to include the Data Availability information or include a Data Availability statement (although authors who would like to include are welcome to).

Q. What if my question is not addressed here?

A. Authors who have questions about the policy, or readers who have difficulty accessing data, are encouraged to contact the relevant journal office or data@plos.org.

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