I have a theory. My theory is that many scientists are prone to doublethink. They believe that they are acting in a certain way when in fact, they’re doing the exact opposite.
Take data sharing.
Young scientists are taught that science is all about being open. Making your results available (by publishing articles), communicating them to others (by seminars). Yet at the same time, they are taught work practices which encourage them to be solitary creatures inside their own little bubble. Keep a private, jealously-guarded lab notebook. Reinvent the wheel over and over again when developing protocols. Install software and store files on your own machine instead of using the lab server.
This makes it difficult for them to understand data sharing best practice. I’ve tried to explain to my colleagues on multiple occasions that if our lab wants to share bibliographic data, an Endnote binary ENL file is not an appropriate format. I point out that different versions of Endnote may cause compatibility problems, that they may want to try software other than Endnote in the future, that they may want to use the data for purposes other than Endnote import and that not everyone uses Endnote. I try to explain that export to a plain text format such as RIS or BibTeX is not difficult, that such a format will always be usable, that anyone can easily import those formats if they wish. To no avail. We can’t seem to get past the “but everyone uses Endnote – oh wait, you don’t – well, everyone but you uses Endnote, you’re just a techie Linux nerd weirdo” argument.
It’s nothing to do with the software or the level of computer literacy. It’s simply that they are not used to sharing files and so have never thought about what it means to share data. Sharing data means that your personal preferences regarding software no longer count. To make data available is to accept that other people might use it in any number of ways and so to provide it in a generic, utilisable platform-independent format.
We do a reasonable job of teaching young researchers to communicate their results. Let’s do something about teaching them to communicate their data.