Saturday, 28 February 2015

PLOS ONE: Sharing Detailed Research Data Is Associated with Increased Citation Rate




research data provides benefit to the general scientific community, but
the benefit is less obvious for the investigator who makes his or her
data available.

Principal Findings

examined the citation history of 85 cancer microarray clinical trial
publications with respect to the availability of their data. The 48% of
trials with publicly available microarray data received 85% of the
aggregate citations. Publicly available data was significantly (p =
0.006) associated with a 69% increase in citations, independently of
journal impact factor, date of publication, and author country of origin
using linear regression.


correlation between publicly available data and increased literature
impact may further motivate investigators to share their detailed
research data.


information facilitates science. Publicly sharing detailed research
data–sample attributes, clinical factors, patient outcomes, DNA
sequences, raw mRNA microarray measurements–with other researchers
allows these valuable resources to contribute far beyond their original
In addition to being used to confirm original results, raw data can be
used to explore related or new hypotheses, particularly when combined
with other publicly available data sets. Real data is indispensable when
investigating and developing study methods, analysis techniques, and
software implementations. The larger scientific community also benefits:
sharing data encourages multiple perspectives, helps to identify
errors, discourages fraud, is useful for training new researchers, and
increases efficient use of funding and patient population resources by
avoiding duplicate data collection.

that that these benefits outweigh the costs of sharing research data,
many initiatives actively encourage investigators to make their data
available. Some journals, including the PLoS family, require the submission of detailed biomedical data to publicly available databases as a condition of publication[2][4].
Since 2003, the NIH has required a data sharing plan for all large
funding grants. The growing open-access publishing movement will perhaps
increase peer pressure to share data.

while the general research community benefits from shared data, much of
the burden for sharing the data falls to the study investigator. Are
there benefits for the investigators themselves?

currency of value to many investigators is the number of times their
publications are cited. Although limited as a proxy for the scientific
contribution of a paper[5],
citation counts are often used in research funding and promotion
decisions and have even been assigned a salary-increase dollar value[6]. Boosting citation rate is thus is a potentially important motivator for publication authors.

this study, we explored the relationship between the citation rate of a
publication and whether its data was made publicly available. Using
cancer microarray clinical trials, we addressed the following questions:
Do trials which share their microarray data receive more citations? Is
this true even within lower profile trials? What other data-sharing
variables are associated with an increased citation rate? While this
study is not able to investigate causation, quantifying associations is a
valuable first step in understanding these relationships. Clinical
microarray data provides a useful environment for the investigation:
despite being valuable for reuse and extremely costly to collect, is not
yet universally shared.


studied the citations of 85 cancer microarray clinical trials published
between January 1999 and April 2003, as identified in a systematic
review by Ntzani and Ioannidis[7] and listed in Supplementary Text S1.
We found 41 of the 85 clinical trials (48%) made their microarray data
publicly available on the internet. Most data sets were located on lab
websites (28), with a few found on publisher websites (4), or within
public databases (6 in the Stanford Microarray Database (SMD)[8], 6 in Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO)[9], 2 in ArrayExpress[10],
2 in the NCI GeneExpression Data Portal (GEDP)(; some
datasets in more than one location). The internet locations of the
datasets are listed in Supplementary Text S2.
The majority of datasets were made available concurrently with the
trial publication, as illustrated within the WayBackMachine internet
archives (
for 25 of the datasets and mention of supplementary data within the
trial publication itself for 10 of the remaining 16 datasets. As seen in
Table 1, trials published in high impact journals, prior to 2001, or with US authors were more likely to share their data.

Table 1. Characteristics of Eligible Trials by Data Sharing.
cohort of 85 trials was cited an aggregate of 6239 times in 2004–2005
by 3133 distinct articles (median of 1.0 cohort citation per article,
range 1–23). The 48% of trials which shared their data received a total
of 5334 citations (85% of aggregate), distributed as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Distribution of 2004–2005 citation counts of 85 trials by data availability.
41 clinical trial publications which publicly shared their microarray
data received more citations, in general, than the 44 publications which
did not share their microarray data. In this plot of the distribution
of citation counts received by each publication, the extent of the box
encompasses the interquartile range of the citation counts, whiskers
extend to 1.5 times the interquartile range, and lines within the boxes
represent medians.

a trial's dataset was made publicly available was significantly
associated with the log of its 2004–2005 citation rate (69% increase in
citation count; 95% confidence interval: 18 to 143%, p = 0.006),
independent of journal impact factor, date of publication, and US
authorship. Detailed results of this multivariate linear regression are
given in Table 2.
A similar result was found when we regressed on the number of citations
each trial received during the 24 months after its publication (45%
increase in citation count; 95% confidence interval: 1 to 109%, p =

Table 2. Multivariate regression on citation count for 85 publications
confirm that these findings were not dependent on a few extremely
high-profile papers, we repeated our analysis on a subset of the cohort.
We define papers published after the year 2000 in journals with an
impact factor less than 25 as lower-profile publications. Of the 70
trials in this subset, only 27 (39%) made their data available, although
they received 1875 of 2761 (68%) aggregate citations. The distribution
of the citations by data availability in this subset is shown in Figure 2.
The association between data sharing and citation rate remained
significant in this lower-profile subset, independent of other
covariates within a multivariate linear regression (71% increase in
citation count; 95% confidence interval: 19 to 146%, p = 0.005).

Figure 2. Distribution of 2004–2005 citation counts of the 70 lower-profile trials by data availability.
trials which were published after 2000 and in journals with an impact
factor less than 25, the 27 clinical trial publications which publicly
shared their microarray data received more citations, in general, than
the 43 publications which did not share their microarray data. In this
plot of the distribution of citation counts received by each
publication, the extent of the box encompasses the interquartile range
of the citation counts, whiskers extend to 1.5 times the interquartile
range, and lines within the boxes represent medians.

we performed exploratory analysis on citation rate within the subset of
trials which shared their microarray data; results are given in Table 3 and raw covariate data in Supplementary Data S1.
The number of patients in a trial and a clinical endpoint correlated
with increased citation rate. Assuming shared data is actually
re-analyzed, one might expect an increase in citations for those trials
which generated data on a standard platform (Affymetrix), or released it
in a central location or format (SMD, GEO, GEDP)[11].
However, the choice of platform was insignificant and only those trials
located in SMD showed a weak trend of increased citations. In fact, the
6 trials with data in GEO (in addition to other locations for 4 of the
6) actually showed an inverse relationship to citation rate, though we
hesitate to read much into this due to the small number of trials in
this set. The few trials in this cohort which, in addition to gene
expression fold-change or other preprocessed information, shared their
raw probe data or actual microarray images did not receive additional
citations. Finally, although finding diverse microarray datasets online
is non-trivial, an additional increase in citations was not noted for
trials which mentioned their Supplementary Material within their paper,
nor for those trials with datasets identified by a centralized,
established data mining website. In summary, only trial design features
such as size and clinical endpoint showed a significant association with
citation rate; covariates relating to the data collection and how the
data was made available only showed very weak trends. Perhaps with a
larger and more balanced sample of trials with shared data these trends
would be more clear.

Table 3. Exploratory regressions on citation count for the 41 publications with shared data


found that cancer clinical trials which share their microarray data
were cited about 70% more frequently than clinical trials which do not.
This result held even for lower-profile publications and thus is
relevant to authors of all trials.

parallel can be drawn between making study data publicly available and
publishing a paper itself in an open-access journal. The association
with an increased citation rate is similar[12].
While altruism no doubt plays a part in the motivation of authors in
both cases, studies have found that an additional reason authors choose
to publish in open-access journals is that they believe their articles
will be cited more frequently[13], [14], endorsing the relevance of our result as a potential motivator.

note an important limitation of this study: the demonstrated
association does not imply causation. Receiving many citations and
sharing data may stem from a common cause rather than being directly
causally related. For example, a large, high-quality, clinically
important trial would naturally receive many citations due to its
medical relevance; meanwhile, its investigators may be more inclined to
share its data than they would be for a smaller trial-perhaps due
greater resources or confidence in the results.

if we speculate for a moment that some or all of the association is
indeed causal, we can hypothesize several mechanisms by which making
data available may increase citations. The simplest mechanism is due to
increased exposure: listing the dataset in databases and on websites
will increase the number of people who encounter the publication. These
people may then subsequently cite it for any of the usual reasons one
cites a paper, such as paying homage, providing background reading, or
noting corroborating or disputing claims ([15]
provides a summary of research into citation behavior). More
interestingly, evidence suggests that shared microarray data is indeed
often reanalyzed[16],
so at least some of the additional citations are certainly in this
context. Finally, these re-analyses may spur enthusiasm and synergy
around a specific research question, indirectly focusing publications
and increasing the citation rate of all participants. These hypotheses
are not tested in this study: additional research is needed to study the
context of these citations and the degree, variety, and impact of any
data re-use. Further, it would be interesting to assess the impact of
reuse on the community, quantifying whether it does in fact lead to
collaboration, a reduction in resource use, and scientific advances.

Since it is generally agreed that sharing data is of value to the scientific community[16][21],
it is disappointing that less than half of the trials we looked at made
their data publicly available. It is possible that attitudes may have
changed in the years since these trials were published, however even
recent evidence (in a field tangential to microarray trials)
demonstrates a lack of willingness and ability to share data: an
analysis in 2005 by Kyzas et al.[22]
found that primary investigators for 17 of 63 studies on TP53 status in
head and neck squamous cell carcinoma did not respond to a request for
additional information, while 5 investigators replied they were unable
to retrieve raw data.

Indeed, there are many personal difficulties for those who undertake to share their data[1].
A major cost is time: the data have to be formatted, documented, and
released. Unfortunately this investment is often larger than one might
guess: in the realm of microarray and particularly clinical information,
it is nontrivial to decide what data to release, how to de-identify it,
how to format it, and how to document it. Further, it is sometimes
complicated to decide where to best publish data, since supplementary
information and laboratory sites are transient[23], [24]
Beyond a time investment, releasing data can induce fear. There is a
possibility that the original conclusions may be challenged by a
re-analysis, whether due to possible errors in the original study[25], a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the data[26],
or simply more refined analysis methods. Future data miners might
discover additional relationships in the data, some of which could
disrupt the planned research agenda of the original investigators.
Investigators may fear they will be deluged with requests for
assistance, or need to spend time reviewing and possibly rebutting
future re-analyses. They might feel that sharing data decreases their
own competitive advantage, whether future publishing opportunities,
information trade-in-kind offers with other labs, or potentially
profit-making intellectual property. Finally, it can be complicated to
release data. If not well-managed, data can become disorganized and
lost. Some informed consent agreements may not obviously cover
subsequent uses of data. De-identification can be complex. Study
sponsors, particularly from industry, may not agree to release raw
detailed information. Data sources may be copyrighted such that the data
subsets can not be freely shared, though it is always worth asking.

several of these difficulties are challenging to overcome, many are
being addressed by a variety of initiatives, thereby decreasing the
barriers to data sharing. For example, within the area of microarray
clinical trials, several public microarray databases (SMD[27], GEO[9], ArrayExpress[10], CIBEX[28],
GEDP( offer an obvious, centralized, free, and
permanent data storage solution. Standards have been developed to
specify minimal required data elements (MIAME[29] for microarray data, REMARK[30] for prognostic study details), consistent data encoding (MAGE-ML[31] for microarray data), and semantic models (BRIDG ( for study protocol details). Software exists to help de-identify some types of patient records (De-ID[32]). The NIH and other agencies allow funds for data archiving and sharing. Finally, large initiatives (NCI's caBIG[33]) are underway to build tools and communities to enable and advance sharing data.

consumes considerable resources from the public trust. As data sharing
gets easier and benefits are demonstrated for the individual
investigator, hopefully authors will become more apt to share their
study data and thus maximize its usefulness to society.

the spirit of this analysis, we have made publicly available the
bibliometric detailed research data compiled for this study (see
Supplementary Information and

Materials and Methods

Identification and Eligibility of Relevant Studies

compared the citation impact of clinical trials which made their cancer
microarray data publicly available to the citation impact of trials
which did not. A systematic review by Ntzani and Ioannidis[7]
identified clinical trials published between January 1999 and April
2003 which investigated correlations between microarray gene expression
and human cancer outcomes and correlates. We adopted this set of 85
trials as the cohort of interest.

Data Extraction

assessed whether each of these trials made its microarray data publicly
available by examining a variety of publication and internet resources.
Specifically, we looked for mention of Supplementary Information within
the trial publication, searched the Stanford Microarray Database (SMD)[8], Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO)[9], ArrayExpress[10], CIBEX[28], and the NCI GeneExpression Data Portal (GEDP)(, investigated whether a data link was provided within Oncomine[34],
and consulted the bibliography of data re-analyses. Microarray data
release was not required by any journals within the timeframe of these
trial publications. Some studies may make their data available upon
individual request, but this adds a burden to the data user and so was
not considered “publicly available” for the purposes of this study.

attempted to determine the date data was made available through
notations in the published paper itself and records within the
WayBackMachine internet archive (
Inclusion in the WayBackMachine archive for a given date proves a
resource was available, however, because archiving is not comprehensive,
absence from the archive does not itself demonstrate a resource did not
exist on that date.

citation history for each trial was collected through the Thomson
Scientific Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Science Citation
Index at the Web of Science Database (
Only citations with a document type of ‘Article’ were considered, thus
excluding citations by reviews, editorials, and other non-primary
research papers.

each trial, we also extracted the impact factor of the publishing
journal (ISI Journal Citation Reports 2004), the date of publication,
and the address of the authors from the ISI Web of Science. Trial size,
clinical endpoint, and microarray platform were extracted from the
Ntzani and Ioannidis review[7].


main analyses addressed the number of citations each trial received
between January 2004 and December 2005. Because the pattern of citations
rates is complex–changing not only with duration since publication but
also with maturation of the general microarray field–a confirmatory
analysis was performed using the number of citations each publication
received within the first 24 months of its publication.

Although citation patterns covering a broad scope of literature types are left-skewed[35],
we verified that citation rates within our relatively homogeneous
cohort were roughly log-normal and thus used parametric statistics.

linear regression was used to evaluate the association between the
public availability of a trial's microarray data and number of citations
(after log transformation) it received. The impact factor of the
journal which published each trial, the date of publication, and the
country of authors are known to correlate to citation rate[36],
so these factors were included as covariates. Impact factor was
log-transformed, date of publication was measured as months since
January 1999, and author country was coded as 1 if any investigator has a
US address and 0 otherwise.

seminal papers–often those published early in the history a field or in
very high-impact journals–receive an unusually high number of
citations, we performed a subset analysis to determine whether our
results held when considering only those trials which were published
after 2000 and in lower-impact (<25) journals.

as exploratory analysis within the subset of all trials with publicly
available microarray data, we looked at the linear regression
relationships between additional covariates and citation count.
Covariates included trial size, clinical endpoint, microarray platform,
inclusion in various public databases, release of raw data, mention of
supplementary information, and reference within the Oncomine[34] repository.

Statistical analysis was performed using the stats package in R version 2.1[37]; the code is included as Supplementary Text S3. P-values are two-tailed.

Supporting Information

Text S1.

Cohort Publication Bibliography
(0.05 MB DOC)

Text S2.

Locations of Publicly Available Data for the Cohort
(0.05 MB DOC)

Text S3.

Statistical Analysis R-code
(0.01 MB TXT)

Data S1.

Raw Citation Counts and Covariates
(0.04 MB XLS)

Author Contributions

and designed the experiments: HP. Performed the experiments: HP.
Analyzed the data: HP. Wrote the paper: HP. Other: Reviewed the data
analysis and interpretation, reviewed the paper: RD Discussed the study
motivation and scope, reviewed the paper: DF.


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PLOS ONE: Sharing Detailed Research Data Is Associated with Increased Citation Rate

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