For Authors: Updates to eLife’s data sharing policies

eLife’s policies on data availability and sharing will ensure greater transparency, rigour and reproducibility in research.

By the eLife Ethics Committee and editors

eLife is committed to creating a future where a diverse, global community of researchers shares open results for the benefit of all. This is reflected in part in our policies on data availability and sharing to ensure transparency, rigour and reproducibility in the research we publish.

In this blog post, we detail and illuminate these policies, and address several common issues we have encountered with data availability in the past, to help authors avoid them in the future.

Purpose and general principles

To maintain high standards of research reproducibility, and to promote the reuse of new findings, eLife requires all data associated with an article to be made freely and widely available. These must be in the most useful formats and according to the relevant reporting standards, unless there are compelling legal or ethical reasons to restrict access. The provision of data should comply with FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).

Specifically, authors must make all original data used to support the claims of the paper, or that are required to reproduce them, available in the manuscript text, tables, figures or supplementary materials, or at a trusted digital repository (the latter is recommended). This must include all variables, treatment conditions and observations described in the manuscript. The authors must also provide a full account of the materials and procedures used to collect, pre–process, clean, generate and analyse the data that would enable them to be independently reproduced by other researchers. The authors must ensure the provenance of the data for at least a 10-year period.

Timing of data release

eLife considers works to be published when they are posted as preprints, and expects preprints we review to meet the standards outlined here. We recognise, however, that while preprints and the infrastructure to publish them are still evolving this may not always be practical.

Data Availability Statement

All eLife papers must contain a Data Availability Statement that details how all relevant data are being made available, including accession codes and/or other identifiers.

Compliance with laws and ethical standards

Data sharing must comply with all relevant legal requirements for data sharing as well as applicable institutional standards. Under no circumstances should requirements of the eLife Data Availability Policy supersede legal or ethical standards for data sharing.

Restrictions on data access

If data availability must be limited to ensure participant or patient privacy, or to comply with legal or ethical requirements, the authors must clearly articulate those reasons in the Data Availability Statement and a specific exemption must be granted by the handling eLife editors.

If, in exceptional cases, data access must be requested from the authors for legal or ethical reasons, a specific exemption must be granted by the handling eLife editor, and the precise mechanism, including contacts and timeline, must be stated. Simply saying, “Data will be made available upon request” is not acceptable.

If authors use proprietary data, it is their responsibility to make prior agreements with the data owners so that the data will be made available and a precise mechanism, including contacts and timeline, must be provided in the Data Availability Statement. In addition, the owners of the data must be clearly stated, and the editors should be made aware of any ethical and/or legal constraints in advance.

If the authors use data that is publicly available but with restrictions, these restrictions should be clearly described in the Data Availability Statement.

In all cases where data access must be restricted, the authors should ensure that the data are available to editors and reviewers, unless there are legal or ethical limitations that prevent this. Any such limitations must be made known to the editors at the time of submission.

Use of external and unpublished data

In addition to ensuring that readers have access to all data used in the paper, as described above, authors should comply with any and all agreements they themselves entered into to obtain access to these data. They should also adhere to community standards with regards to embargoes and data citation, unless they believe there are legal, ethical or scientific reasons not to do so, in which case a specific exemption must be granted by eLife editors.

Authors using unpublished datasets must abide by the relevant guidelines followed by the respective research communities for the use and acknowledgment of those data resources (including the Fort Lauderdale and Toronto agreements in the case of genomic datasets), obtaining permission where required (which should be stated in the cover letter), and citing the appropriate laboratory, website, and accession numbers.

Mechanisms of data sharing

Whenever possible, authors should make data available via trusted institutional or third-party repositories that adhere to policies that make data discoverable, accessible and usable. Authors must ensure that the data are preserved over the long term and that datasets are assigned unique and persistent identifiers. Author-maintained websites are generally not compliant with this requirement, but we will grant exceptions when they are the only viable option. Please see our list of recommended repositories on the FAIRsharing Resource for specific types of data.

For guidance on data sharing, authors are also encouraged to upload their article to DataSeer, which provides a free report that outlines datasets in the article that should be shared, the appropriate raw file formats (see DataSeer wiki), and recommends suitable data repositories.

Handling of requests for exceptions

Any exceptions to the aforementioned policies regarding Data Availability and Sharing should be requested initially in the cover letter at the time of submission. In rare cases, despite authors’ best efforts, certain data or materials cannot be shared for legal or ethical reasons. Every effort will be made to consider these (rare) requests expeditiously so as not to delay review. In such cases, and their variations, authors may be asked to share data with journal editors with an assurance of confidentiality, in order to verify findings.

Ongoing commitment to data sharing

Once a paper is published, eLife expects the authors to comply with its policies on Data Availability and Sharing. If readers experience difficulty in procuring data after publication, they should contact the eLife editorial office, at editorial [at] elifesciences [dot] org. If the editorial staff and editors cannot amicably address the issue, which we expect not to be the case, eLife may publish a statement to reflect that readers were not able to access the data required to replicate or reproduce the findings.

For more information about eLife’s data sharing policies please refer to our author guide.


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