Data Is the Currency of Science, But When Will It Be Open?


By David Faulkner posted 03-15-2017 07:17


The following blog pertains to the 2017 SOT Annual Meeting Scientific Session "Supporting Open Data in Toxicology."

Data is the currency of science, and everyone, from toxicologists to tech companies always seem to need more of it. But how do we make the most of the data that we have? And how do we ensure appropriate transparency and formatting of data? This workshop sought to address these and other questions surrounding open data in toxicology.

The session opened and closed with speakers from the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), who emphasized the commitment of their organization to freely available toxicology data and the tools to make use of it. Ronald N. Hines, PhD, US EPA, and John Vandenberg, PhD, US EPA, both detailed the efforts of the US EPA to make government research and publicly available data sets easy to access and explore. Dr. Hines described the tool ScienceHub, which serves as a repository for the US EPA’s datasets, and, which hosts datasets for the federal government in general, while Dr. Vandenberg presented the Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) database.

Carolyn J. Mattingly, DPhil, PhD, North Carolina State University, emphasized the importance of a shared vocabulary for chemicals, phenotypes, and diseases to address the problem of data compatibility. She made the case that for open data to have any meaning as a concept, the data terminology and formatting need to be mutually intelligible between researchers and properly annotated to ensure proper use. These points were reinforced by Lynn Yarmey, Research Data Alliance, which is a facilitation group aimed at generating community standards for data sharing among professions. At the conclusion of her talk, Ms. Yarmey suggested that SOT may benefit from her firm’s services and that the Society had an opportunity to bring the toxicology community together to standardize data sharing.

The energy levels of the session peaked with Timothy P. Pastoor, PhD, Pastoor Science Communications, LLC, and his passionate urging that companies who have conducted toxicological research for the evaluation by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) and US EPA release their high-quality data for the good of the toxicology community. His presentation indicated the potential value of the data, which is often submitted for regulatory purposes, but not curated in a useful way, and is often distributed among databases. Dr. Pastoor made the case that companies have an opportunity to contribute greatly to the cause of toxicological research by releasing even minimum datasets for use and analysis by researchers and the general public.

Altogether, the session thoughtfully highlighted the power and potential of open data, and this reporter came away with a sense that it’s not a question of if open data becomes the norm, but when.