The Symbiont Awards
Celebrating the sharing of scientific data
About the award

The Symbionts

PSB awards for data sharing.

As Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke in 1675: “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The Symbiont Awards seek to honor modern giants. Traditionally, data sharing was challenging and expensive, so research proceeded by sharing completed findings. Our culture in science and medicine has been built on the value of completed stories.

However, with the rise of networked computers, sharing complex datasets is increasingly feasible. Once data are shared, anyone can make discoveries from these data. This is good, at least in the short term, for research. Discoveries arrive sooner, and patients benefit more quickly. Discoveries are also more likely to emerge when they are still meaningful, before new discoveries have rendered them less useful. But to avoid harm in the long term, we need to make sure that incentives are aligned to guarantee that generating novel and interesting datasets remains rewarded.

We envision a future in which widespread sharing of research data benefits all. We expect the biggest winners will be those who share and share well, and in doing so, create the most value. However, until that time comes, the Symbiont Awards seek to recognize these individuals and their contributions.

Symbiosis denotes a long-term interaction between two different species. The interaction may be beneficial to both or may impose a cost on a member of the interaction. Data sharing may impose a cost on the individual sharing, or it may provide benefits.

The Symbiont Awards, given annually, recognize exemplars in the practice of data sharing. We expect data sharing to play a key role in the scientific ecosystem. Some of the goals supported by data sharing include:

  1. Facilitate meta-analysis and other granular, between-study analyses, even if the investigators who currently curate the data deem the project too far outside their interests* to justify a sharing effort.
  2. Facilitate validation of emerging non-randomized analytical approaches (e.g., propensity score matching) via comparison to bona fide randomized data.
  3. Facilitate independent attempts to address existing hypotheses using existing data, which can reveal previously unknown sensitivity of prior analyses to methodological assumptions ("pressure-testing" of the robustness of hypotheses; sensitivity analysis)
  4. Facilitate the generation of novel hypotheses, leading researchers to perform new studies and generate new datasets.
  5. Unburden research teams from having to handle every incoming request for data.
  6. Broaden the impact of existing data, which are often generated at great time and expense.
  7. Facilitate the emergence of important research findings faster than any one team can act to produce the results either alone or in collaboration.
*fundamentally in the sense of “what they enjoy thinking about”, but also, rarely, in the financial sense. The question that seems esoteric to the original study team might be highly pertinent to health in another context.

The Symbiont Awards currently consist of two awards: the first recognizes an outstanding contribution from any research area at any level. The second seeks to recognize the sharing of data relevant to health by an individual at the training stage of their career - ideally a trainee with clinical responsibilities.

Award Criteria

What we seek to recognize.

Both awards

  • Sharing mechanism. Was the sharing mechanism clearly permissible per all applicable ethical or legal restrictions, e.g., informed consent document? Was the sharing mechanism as easy for re-users as is feasible within those constraints?
  • Dataset quality. Was the dataset remarkable for its richness, granularity, and quality, such that it was inviting to potential re-users?
  • Intellectual independence. Was creation of the dataset an endeavor supported by a sponsor with a conflict of interest vis a vis the results? If no such conflict exists, nominators should specify this. If a conflict exists, please explain how the contribution demonstrates independence.
  • Exemplar reanalyses. Were the data effectively re-used to answer questions not addressed in an initial publication reporting the dataset or data notification?
  • Annotation of decisions made in the generation of the dataset. Additional consideration will be given to datasets with the clearest publicly available audit trail of decisions potentially affecting re-users.

The Early-career Clinical Research Symbiont Award

  • Translational research focus. Are the data being reanalyzed for the purpose of translational research? Impact will be assessed based on the potential of secondary analyses to improve human health.
  • Training stage. The data must have been generated and disseminated during the training stage of an applicant’s career. The applicant must be no more than three years post-training by the time of the nomination deadline. Preference will be given to applicants who have clinical, in addition to research, responsibilities.

Eligibility & Application

How to apply for an award.

Application Process

We encourage readers to broadly share this call, and we strongly encourage members of groups that are underrepresented in scientific communities to apply for this award.

Applications for the 2018 Research Symbiont Awards must be received by September 30, 2017 at 5PM HST (Hawaii Standard Time) at TBD. An application's specific content is TBD.

Symbiont Selection Committee

The committee has sole responsibility for determining the recipient of the parasite awards. As discussed in the conflict of interest rules, the committee and individual members are unable to comment on any unselected nominations.

J. Brian Byrd


Amanda Haddock

Award and Conflict of Interest Rules

  1. PSB conference co-chairs do not serve as nominator or endorser for any nomination submitted for this award.
  2. Members of this award committee do not serve as a nominator for any nomination for this award. If you have nominated a candidate, inform the committee chair immediately so that one of two actions may be taken: (a) the nomination will be set aside for the year, or (b) you will step down from the committee for the year.
  3. Members of this committee should not be directly involved in nominations prior to their submittal. Members can answer general questions about what a nomination should include but may not pre-review or comment on draft nominations.
  4. Members must maintain confidentiality about the internal discussions of the committee. Information about committee deliberations should not be shared with anyone outside the committee, nor should the winner be discussed until PSB has issued a formal statement.
  5. Members of this committee and the committee as a whole do not provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates. If a member is asked for feedback, this policy should be cited.
  6. Members of this committee are not eligible to be nominated for the award during their time on the committee. Individuals in the research group of a committee member are also not eligible to be nominated for the award during that member’s time on the committee.
  7. Members of this committee must self-identify any relationships/affiliations that might be perceived as a source of potential bias, and inform the committee chair of the COIs before any candidates have been discussed. Identify any candidates with whom you: have had close personal or working relationships within the past 5 years or the period covered by the award, whichever is longer; anyone for whom you were thesis advisor/advisee; anyone for whom you were a postdoctoral advisor/advisee; anyone for whom you were a faculty mentor/mentee; or any other case where your judgment could be affected. Also identify any candidates from your current institution or one where you worked within the past 5 years.

In the event that a committee member has a relationship described in rule 7 with one or more nominees, s/he should disclose that relationship to the other committee members and describe the nature of the relationship(s). The other committee members should then decide (without the conflicted committee member) whether the conflict is adequately mitigated by disclosure. In the event that a majority of the other committee members believes the conflict is not adequately mitigated by disclosure, the following procedure should be followed: (1) The conflicted committee member may not participate in the discussion of the conflicted nominee; (2) If the non-conflicted committee members feel a conflicted nominee should be an awardee, then those committee members should send a written description of the conflict and the rationale for their decision to the PSB co-chairs; (3) if a majority of the PSB co-chairs believe the decision has been improperly biased by the conflict, the conflicted nominee cannot be the award winner, and the committee will be tasked with selecting a different awardee.