Access to Research Data Critical to Advance Science for Public Good

Released: 16-Mar-2004 9:30 AM EST
Embargo expired: 18-Mar-2004 2:00 PM EST
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Citations Science (19-Mar-2004)

Newswise — Open access to data resulting from publicly funded research is essential to advance science and the public good, but lack of consistency in government policies and within the scientific community hinders the open-access ideal, according to a report in the March 19 issue of the journal Science.

Open access leads to greater long-term economic benefits, to better-informed government decision-makers and to accelerated progress in science itself, the report states. The report's international team of authors studied data-access issues on behalf of the 30-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

"Countries around the world have invested heavily in the promise of e-science and the emerging cyberinfrastructure, which will allow researchers to access data archives, instruments, computers and expertise without regard to geographic location," said Peter Arzberger, director of life sciences initiatives at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and lead author on the report. "On the other hand, the technological capabilities bring the social and political challenges to the forefront."

The report's U.S. authors were supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

At a recent meeting of the OECD Committee for Science and Technological Policy at Ministerial level, national science ministers, including John Marburger, director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, adopted a Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding. The declaration is based on the authors' full report to the OECD, on which the Science paper is based, and invites the OECD to develop a set of guidelines to ensure "optimal, cost-effective access" to digital research data resulting from publicly funded research.

"OECD guidelines will clear up a lot of confusion about the way publicly funded research data should be made accessible," said Peter Schroeder, the group's co-chair and coordinator of information policy at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. "Individual researchers tend to lose interest in data and data infrastructures beyond the scope of their current project. Therefore it is important that governments establish the principal rules for our global science system."

The authors both looked at the policies that governments need to consider and identified a framework that the research community should examine to achieve the vision of open access to data. The report points out inconsistent data-access policies among nations, among agencies in the same country and among scientific disciplines.

The authors lay out common principles for access to publicly funded research data and call for an international effort by scientists, funding agencies and other international and national bodies to overcome the barriers to this ideal.

The ultimate goal, according to the authors, is to make data sharing and the principle of open access the rule rather than the exception.

"This is a positive first step toward public accessibility to publicly funded science," said Kerri-Ann Jones, director of NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering. "Science today is an international enterprise and open access to data must be addressed globally."

As policy for its grantees, NSF expects and encourages the publication of research results and the sharing of data and other collections amassed during the work. However, investigators do retain intellectual property rights to their work, allowing them to hold copyrights or pursue patents.

Read the Final Communique of the OECD Committee for Science and Technological Policy at Ministerial Level at: http://www.oecd.org/document/15/0,2340,en_2649_201185_25998799_119690_1_1_1,0.html

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