Tamar Schlekat, SETAC Scientific Affairs Manager

Hidden behind the many excellent presentations and networking events at the SETAC North America 40th Annual Meeting, which was held last month in Toronto, there was lots of work done to advance the Society’s mission in the meeting rooms – especially to advance open data. Major advancements and announcements were made that should inspire members devoted to promoting environmental science towards improved environmental quality for all.

There was lots of healthy chatter and debate during the week about how SETAC can promote open science and open data. The definition of open science by the Center for Open Science, “Show Your Work. Share Your Work. Advance Science. That’s Open Science,” was bandied about. It was understood that while the first two parts—Show Your Work. Share Your Work—referred to open practices (open data and open access), the last one—Advance Science—referred to a commitment to transparent and high-quality rigorous science. It was evident because, in order to advance science, scientists need to be able to verify the research of their peers and then build upon that work. Therefore, it was surmised that, by SETAC standards, open science refers to open practices as well, in addition to rigorous science steeped in research integrity. This was consistent with the SETAC Declaration on Research Integrity adopted by the SETAC World Council a month earlier. On the other hand, open data was understood to be data that meet the FAIR principles1: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Besides, it was clearly recognized that open data should be complete!

SETAC TIP cover

Download the SETAC Technical Issue Paper “Recommended Minimum Reporting Information for Environmental Toxicity Studies”

Being passed around at the meeting, and written about in media outlets, were the SETAC guidelines on “Minimum Recommended Reporting Information for Environmental Toxicity Studies,” which had been published as a SETAC Technical Issue Paper (TIP) a week before. The guidelines were designed as a gentle reminder, a checklist if you will, for researchers to confirm that they have in fact reported all the information that would make their data truly open data. To the best of the TIP authors’ knowledge, there are no other such reporting guidelines available for “environmental toxicity studies,” even though there are many standard methods and guidelines for the studies. It was partly attributed to the fact that it is a difficult task to define such recommendations since environmental toxicity data can vary widely. Nevertheless, the authors were very interested in advancing this issue and thought that SETAC was the logical leader to set guidelines for reporting information for environmental toxicity studies.

The guidelines were intentionally developed to be flexible and inclusive. They cover all types of environmental toxicity data—from original research studies to standard studies, from field studies to laboratory experiments, from animal tests to new methodology approaches—and was also intended to be adaptable to all types of stressors—chemical, physical and biological. Data are considered to include all information that is generated during a study, including design plans, measurements, observations, calculations, tools, models, code, among other items—basically all information needed to reanalyze the results.

The guidelines are merely a suggested framework to present data. They should not be confused with a scoring or rating scheme for research being presented. The guidelines recommend for reporting information are organized into eight major categories: study design, stressors, test subjects, conditions, observations, analysis, notes and disclosures. They practically follow a research report or paper outline to help the data tell a story. However, recognizing that while open data could be accompanied with a paper, it does not always have to be, the guidelines recommend a thorough notes section to ensure that the data stands on its own. Finally, the authors were careful to ensure that the guidelines followed the FAIR principles of open data, which state that open data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

Complementary to those happenings, there was lively discussion regarding the Open Data Policy for the SETAC journals, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM). The policy has long required that all manuscripts submitted to the journals for review and potential publication are accompanied with original data unless the data cannot be made available for proprietary reasons, and in that situation, it was required that the data are made available at least to reviewers and editors. How the data are to be made available was clarified. The first preference of SETAC is for authors to post all their data in an open access online repository. An online repository would ensure that the data are permanently available as well as searchable and citable by giving the data digital object identifier (DOI). A list of online repositories can be found at the Register of Research Data Repositories2. The second preference is for authors to share their data via supplemental material. The least preferable option is for authors to state that their data are “available upon request.” Further, if the editorial office is alerted that either the data have ceased to be accessible via repositories or the authors have failed to respond to data requests or declined to share their data, the authors will be contacted to request data access. If that is not resolved to the satisfaction of the editorial offices, an editorial note of concern will be published together with the original article to alert readers that the author has been unwilling to adhere to SETAC’s open data policy.

Also at the meeting, SETAC’s journal publisher, Wiley, announced that as of 1 January 2020, SETAC members will enjoy a 20% discount on immediate open access (gold open access) for papers published in ET&C and IEAM. More specifically, the gold level open access fee for SETAC members will be discounted from US$3,000 to US$2,400. Wiley also reminded members that articles published in ET&C and IEAM under “green open access” can be shared freely after an initial waiting period of one year. However, it is important to note that publishing research under an open access license only makes it freely available, but it does NOT guarantee that it is accompanied by complete data, which makes the distinction between open access and open data. Where environmental professionals want to ensure that their work advances the field, they should ensure open access to their data. Environmental toxicologists specifically would do well to ensure their data is complete by reviewing the SETAC guidelines for Minimum Recommended Reporting Information for Environmental Toxicity Studies.

These somewhat disparate steps that SETAC took all converge to advance open science. For suggestions on other open science initiatives, please contact Tamar Schlekat.

Author’s contact information: tamar.schlekat@setac.org

View job opportunities in the SETAC Career Center
SETAC Fort Worth
SETAC Dublin
SETAC 8th World Congress
Nontarget Analysis for Environmental Risk Assessment
Virtual issue on PFAS