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Should we be forced to document primary data integral to our results?

It may seem an odd question for the PeerJ community. Nevertheless, I have to ask it to maybe start an overdue open discussion.

The concrete case is a method to reconstruct palaeoclimate based on plant taxon lists, the "Coexistence Approach", a special form of an unweighted mutual climate range method. Overlap of modern-day climate tolerances (min-max values) of plant genera/families is used to define a "coexistence interval" for a fossil plant assemblage to provide a quantitative climate estimate.

We pointed to several problems (data, in 2012; application, theory, in 2016). Authors of a recently published paper informed me that they are not sure whether they are allowed publishing the used tolerances, and editors informed me that it is not their business to enforce documentation of primary data.

My opinion is that it should be obligatory in such a case that the basic data (here: climate tolerances) are published, so the results can be reproduced by others and errors eliminated/identified. And it's in the interest of the journals to impose such a policy.

I'd like to have your opinion on this.

For further information see my two recent posts Business as usual / Trying to disperse the Impermeable Fog

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The way you put it: yes. Still, I have difficulties trying to fathom the entirety of consequences that a general obligation to provide full documentation of primary data might have. At some point you end up venturing into grey area, even in usually-far-from-real-world-repercussion palaeontology. Think of a spectacular new fossil site, where there may be legitimate concern about making GPS coordinates publicly available; and as soon as that you're back with "available upon request", at best.

I agree there should be no monopolizing an expertise that's built on public funding, but given such grey areas, who would there be to decide justly from case to case?

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I would distinguish between resources (like a fossil site, unpublished data) and used data (like a gene sequence used in a phylogenetic inference or a climate tolerance). A resource can be plundered, but data not.

The fossil site issue applies also to rare species. We cannot reveal their exact coordinates, because it may lead to their distinction. But a sequence I obtained from such material to assess its phylogenetic position, or a range distribution map with downscaled resolution I used to characterise its climate niche, does not deplete by being re-used.

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I pondered a bit more about the grey zone to come up with a case.

Let's say my group has studied intensively a certain habitat (e.g. cloud forests), and we found a new species. We assessed its habitat prefences and distribution (altitudinal and geographically), but also found a number of (subrecent) fossil sites including the new species.

Now we write a paper concluding that the cloud forests were at a different altitude, using the actuo-palaeontological principle and our modern-day and fossil-site occurrence data.

It'd easy to support our conclusion by providing the GIS-coordinate data of the fossil sites and the species. But this would run the risk of harming the resources.

But can we also withhold any information about altitudinal distribution and geographic expanse? One could argue that the combination of these data may allow identifying the locality of the resources.

But this grey zone would be very small, as author I would reproduce the data with a precision that support our conclusion, but makes it difficult to find the resources. My interest in revealing these data would be that others finding the species can judge if their find is within the known range, or enlarges it.

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