Enriching the neuroscience data commons: An interview with the Editors-in-Chief of NeuroCommons

We talk to Satrajit Ghosh and Maryann Martone to learn more about the launch of their new neuroscience journal.

NeuroCommons is a new Open Access journal published with BMC that welcomes submissions from across the full breadth of the neurosciences. Today the journal is launching a call for papers to invite submissions that demonstrate why data sharing matters and show how data reuse is leading to new scientific insights. Read more about the new series and how to submit here.

What is the intent of the Commons and how does NeuroCommons fit in?

The concept of the Commons relates to a set of resources shared by a community or the public. In our field, anytime someone makes their data, analyses code, protocols, workflows or related resources available to the broader community it becomes part of the neuroscience commons.

By launching our new journal, NeuroCommons, our intent is to provide a publication-based mechanism to increase the utility and the visibility of public neuroscience. We also hope to further elaborate and discuss what the Commons for neuroscience looks like and how it should operate.

What benefits does the neuroscience community stand to gain by making open sharing of FAIR scholarly outcomes the norm?

We have to consider the benefits from the perspective of both the researcher and society at large. For society, we believe that open and FAIR neuroscience means better neuroscience that will accelerate discovery.  For the researchers, an effective Commons results in receiving more credit for the different types of research output they produce.

Given the benefits, why do you think some researchers are hesitant to share their data and resources?

Most of the current reluctance in sharing digital research output (data, software, protocols) stems from the intense competition for funding, positions, and promotions. Data and code are also considered lab assets that can continue to be utilized for the lab’s benefit in the future. Other considerations include a sense of professional vulnerability when others have full access to all the data and code. Researchers express fear that others will misuse the data.  And finally, researchers are concerned about the time, effort and resources it will take to prepare data and code for public release.

So what needs to happen for researchers to more widely adopt open practices?

First, researchers have to want to because they feel that this is the best way for neuroscience to proceed.  We know well that the current reward system, including grant support, promotion and tenure, do not favor this type of approach to science.  Although we can see that these incentives are being challenged by funding agencies that are now requiring more and more that data and code be shared.  But secondly, many have worked very hard to ensure that those who share data and code in a way that it can be reused can be credited for their work.

Do you agree with the idea that researchers must collect original data in order to create novel studies?

In short: No, we don’t.

We believe that the reuse of public data is of critical importance to moving neuroscience forward. For example, the BRAIN Initiative has stated that one of its goals it to bring in computational-mathematicians and -physicists to develop theories and frameworks for understanding how the brain works.  These scientists need data, and not just any data, but data that has been carefully prepared, in order to do their work because they can’t generate their own.

Open sharing of digital resources and protocols provides transparency, ensuring robust and reproducible research, but it can also spur additional research. As an example, the availability of Human Connectome Project data, the many software packages on GitHub, and protocols on various websites has enabled new analyses testing new hypotheses, new software, and new directions of research.

More broadly, individual researchers may not have the time and resources to generate a sufficiently powered data set to address a particular question. Public data can provide that power, as we are seeing in neuroimaging.

What are your hopes for your new journal, NeuroCommons, and what benefits do you think it can bring to the neuroscience community?

Our mission is to help communicate new research and related research outputs (data, software, protocols etc.) in a way that will systematically populate a robust, more data- and resource-driven Commons on which to build further findings. In doing so, we hope to help accelerate progress in neuroscience by allowing our community to address bigger questions than would be possible with just the data we ourselves generate as individuals.

Be sure to visit the NeuroCommons homepage to learn more about the journal and feel free to contact our Editors if you’d like to make a presubmission enquiry.

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