Information wants to be free, but when it comes to clinical trials can we afford to let it be?

Future-Science: Paul Wicks – February 2012, Vol. 2, No. 2, Pages 125-127 , DOI 10.4155/cli.11.182 (doi:10.4155/cli.11.182)

‘Information (or data) wants to be free’ – so goes the mantra of hackers and data activists. In the past this meant computer geeks hacking into secure private networks to fulfill their own curiosity or liberate secret knowledge. Today, voluntary ‘data liberation’, as practiced by governments and corporations, is relatively commonplace and semiorganized groups with data freedom agendas, such as Wikileaks and Anonymous, have entered the mainstream consciousness.

For me, it feels increasingly challenging to delineate the margins where free data is good or bad. A highly networked, mobile-enabled popular uprising is considered a ‘revolution’ when it’s against an oppressive regime, but considered a ‘menace’ when it is a disenfranchised mob rioting in a western democracy. Bravely recorded videos of civilians attacked by autocratic regime military forces are essential in prosecuting crimes against humanity, but videos leaked from within a democratic military are a ‘threat to national security’. So while data itself may want to be free, we don’t always want it to be. And so, to clinical trials.

From a societal perspective, the requirement for any trials conducted in the USA to register on ClinicalTrials.gov can only be a good thing in preventing past sins, such as suppressing negative trials or changing end points. As the US government makes this data open, it also allows repurposing. For instance, PatientsLikeMe imports the complete dataset from ClinicalTrials.gov every night to let our membership know (free of charge) about the 30,000+ active trials for which they may be eligible. So far, so good. But what if even more clinical trial data were free?  Read More