Editorials

Data sharing: lessons from Copernicus and Kepler

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4911 (Published 14 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4911
  1. Milton Packer, distinguished scholar in cardiovascular science
  1. Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute, Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75226, USA
  1. milton.packer{at}baylorhealth.edu

They did it, and so must we—quickly, reliably, and respectfully

To understand the workings of science, pick up a copy of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. Published with great reluctance by the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543, the book puts forth a compelling argument for a heliocentric universe. Turn the pages and you will see the book is filled with data. Whose data? Copernicus relied on the data collected by others in addition to his own to formulate his revolutionary theory. Publication of these data subsequently allowed Johannes Kepler to identify discrepancies, which led to his innovative proposal in 1605 that the planets moved in an ellipse (rather than in a circle), an idea that he had previously assumed to be too simple for earlier astronomers to have overlooked. Of course, Kepler presented his data at the same time that he published his conclusions. In contrast, Tycho Brahe (who opposed Copernicus) famously withheld his astronomical data from Kepler because he knew they could be used to confirm Copernicus’s heliocentric model.

The same principles apply to progress in …

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