Request for raw data: author’s and editors’ responses

Philip Moriarty

Philip Moriarty

This is a guest post by  Philip Moriarty, Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham

Despite repeated attempts over the course of two months to secure the raw data underpinning a number of the key “striped nanoparticle” publications, the files I requested from Francesco Stellacci (FS) were not forthcoming. This is disappointing, particularly as FS has told me a number of times that he wants to be as open and ‘transparent’ as possible with regard to his group’s data, and has nothing to hide.

A dataset I am particularly keen to examine is that which forms the basis of the measurements reported as Fig. 6 and Fig. 7 in Y. Hu et al. J. Scann. Probe Microscopy 4, 24 (2009). Similar data are reported in A. Jackson et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128 11135 (2006). The argument in both of those papers is that although feedback loop instabilities are indeed present in the STM images, this is scan speed dependent, whereas the “stripe” periodicity in the nanoparticles is independent of the tip velocity. FS has claimed that this observation rules out the possibility that the stripes are solely artefact-derived and the data are therefore potentially key to the entire stripy nanoparticle controversy.

The STM images shown in both of those papers, however, do not inspire confidence as to the rigour of the analysis process and, hence, I was keen to see the entirety of the data so as to reach my own conclusions regarding the robustness of the experimental technique and the analytic methodology. I stopped short of pleading for these data, but my requests certainly got more plaintive following each e-mail from Francesco which did not include the results.

In the end FS sent me only one image, claiming that this was “representative” of the hundreds of images that must have been used to generate those graphs in the papers cited above.

I also requested the following data from FS:

(i)      The raw topographic and tunnel current images for the data associated with the Nature Materials paper in 2004

(ii)    The images associated with the Nature Materials paper published earlier this year (i.e. 2012) [E Seo Cho et al.] I require the following: the six sets of images corresponding to striped HT=EG3 NPs ; striped HT=EG2 NPs; striped HT=EG1 NPs and non-striped of the same composition (obtained using ligand exchange). The image that is the source of Fig 1b should also be included.

(iii)   The raw STM images for Fig. 5 of Adv. Mater. 2012, 24, 3857–3863

For points (i) and (ii), a similar response about “representative data” was obtained. For point (iii), FS did indeed send me an image. Despite a fairly exhaustive perusal of the image, however, I cannot find the area shown as Fig. 5(d) in the Adv. Mater. paper from last year. I asked FS to identify from where on the image Fig. 5(d) was taken but did not receive a response.

Having not received the data I requested, I was forced into the rather regrettable position of having to approach the journal editors in order to attempt to secure the data. The letter I sent to the editor of Nature Materials is here. Very similar letters were sent to the appropriate editors for J. Scanning Probe Microscopy, Adv. Mater., and J. Am. Chem. Soc.

I had a mixed response from the editors. Nature Materials and JACS, to their immense credit, responded to tell me that they would pursue the matter with Francesco Stellacci.

The editor of the Journal of Scanning Probe Microscopy – which appears now to be defunct, superseded by the Journal of Advanced Microscopy Research (edited by the same person) – responded to my e-mail remarkably quickly (within hours) but only to tell me that we should write a Comment on the work (and cc-ing Prof. Stellacci on his response). I responded to say that this approach was not appropriate in this case and pointed out both the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines on publication ethics and the multiple instances of data re-use (discussed at Dave Fernig’s blog). That was a month ago and I have yet to receive a response.

The editor of Advanced Materials responded to say that he was not going to pursue the matter with Prof. Stellacci. The EuChemMS guidelines to which Adv. Materials and other Wiley journals adhere do not have a clause pertaining to authors’ responsibility to provide raw data. This is disappointing.

Another update will follow when the journals succeed (or fail) to secure the data from Prof. Stellacci…

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