Scientific data are burgeoning — thousands of petabytes were collected in 2018 alone. But these data are not being used widely enough to realize their potential. Most researchers come up against obstacles when they try to get their hands on data sets. Only one-fifth of published papers typically post the supporting data in scientific repositories — as has been shown by PLoS ONE. Too much valuable, hard-won information is gathering dust on computers, disks and tapes.

Scientists don’t share data for many reasons. Those who create data rarely receive credit, and when they do, recognition is often limited to citations. Scant support is available for curating data. These issues span all disciplines, but conversations are disconnected.

That’s why more than 100 repositories, communities, societies, institutions, infrastructures, individuals and publishers (including the Springer Nature journals Nature and Scientific Data) have signed up since last November to the Enabling FAIR Data Project’s Commitment Statement in the Earth, Space, and Environmental Sciences for depositing and sharing data. The principles state that research data should be "findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable" (FAIR). The idea is not new, but aligning this broad community around common data guidelines is a radical step.