Thursday, June 14, 2007

Data and Software Sharing Policy

This message is a request for feedback from the computational biology community.

In 2002, ISCB developed a policy statement on bioinformatics software availability, which defined 5 levels of software availability and made the following recommendations:

1. Given the variety of meanings of "open source", that people define what they mean when they use the term.

2. That government funding agencies encourage grant proposals to specify the availability of software using at least the ISCB-defined levels.

3. That government funding agencies not mandate that all software created with grant money be available via an open-source license.

4. That government funding agencies require that all software created with grant money be available at a minimum in binary form, and free to non-commercial users.

This policy was developed without sufficient input from ISCB members, and the Public Affairs committee is revisiting this topic. We will distribute relevant educational materials (see links below) and opinion pieces, hold a meeting at ISMB/ECCB 2007, gather input on this blog and via email, and otherwise gather feedback from the community. We hope to develop a revised policy statement, or guidelines, that will be useful to the community as well as to government funding agencies and scientific journals.

Our questions to you (please answer in the comments section or direction to

1. Is there a problem?
  • Is there a need to define software availability clearly?
  • Should we expand the scope from government funding agencies to publications? Or beyond? Should we expand the scope to include data sharing?
  • What should government agencies and journals require in terms of software availability? Should ISCB make a recommendation?
  • Should authors and grant-writers be required to clearly define the availability of their software?
  • Is there a problem currently with published articles, in that it is difficult to reproduce the results due to lack of access to data or software? Have you had personal experience with this?
  • Does it make sense to allow researchers at companies to be charged a fee for software but require that it be provided to academics at no charge?
  • If you have terabytes of data, how does that affect your ability to share it?
  • Are there privacy concerns with sharing of human genomic data?
  • What is really needed to allow results to be verified and built upon?
2. What should be done to address the problem?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the 2002 ISCB policy statement, and why?
  • When you publish a paper or develop software for a grant, how do you make your software and data available?
  • What should ISCB do in addition to, or instead of, releasing a policy statement? (Has the previous policy statement had any effect?)
  • What would YOU be willing to do to help ISCB address this issue?
Please respond in the comments section of this post, or via email to, or by attending the meeting on this topic at ISMB/ECCB 2007.

Reference material: