Hope and change for research data in the US

OSTP homepageOn Friday, the Obama administration made a long-awaited announcement regarding public access to the results of federally funded research in the United States.

There has been considerable attention given to the implications for research publications (a concise analysis here).  Less discussed so far — but just as far reaching — the new policy also has quite a lot to say about research data, a topic on which the White House solicited, and received, an earful of input just over a year ago.

What does the directive actually require?  All federal government agencies with at least $100M in R&D expenditures must develop, in the next six month, policies for digital data arising from non-classified research that address a host of objectives, including:

  • to “maximize access, by the general public and without charge, to digitally formatted scientific data created with federal funds” while recognizing that there are cases in which preservation and access may not be desirable or feasible.
  • to promote greater use of data management plans for both intramural and extramural grants and contracts, including review of such plans and mechanisms for ensuring compliance
  • to allow inclusion of appropriate costs for data management and access in grants
  • to promote the deposit of data in publicly accessible databases
  • to address issues of attribution to scientific data sets
  • to support training in data management and stewardship
  • to “outline options for developing and sustaining repositories for scientific data in digital formats, taking into account the efforts of public and private sector entities”

Interestingly, the directive is silent on the issue of embargo periods for research data, neither explicitly allowing or disallowing them.

In the words of White House Science Advisor John Holdren

…the memorandum requires that agencies start to address the need to improve upon the management and sharing of scientific data produced with Federal funding. Strengthening these policies will promote entrepreneurship and jobs growth in addition to driving scientific progress. Access to pre-existing data sets can accelerate growth by allowing companies to focus resources and efforts on understanding and fully exploiting discoveries instead of repeating basic, pre-competitive work already documented elsewhere.

The breadth of research impacted by this directive is notable.  Based on the White House’s proposed 2013 budget, the covered agencies would spend more then $60 billion on R&D.  A partial list includes:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • The Department of Energy (DOE)
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • The National Institutes for Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • The Department of the Interior (which includes the Geological Survey)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • and even the Smithsonian Institution

We applaud OSTP for moving to dramatically improve the availability of research data collected in the public interest with federal funds.

You can read the full memo here: the data policies are covered in Section 4.

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