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White House and Congress Take on Public Access to Research Findings and Data

By Steve Pierson posted 04-01-2013 12:45

A February 22 Memo from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren to the heads of all executive departments and agencies laid out new guidance to make federally funded research and data more accessible to the public. According the OSTP blog on the memo, the six-page document "directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research."

The guidance for research papers to be free and publicly available 12 months after publication mirrors the existing NIH public access policy. According to Richard Van Noorden's Nature magazine article, "U.S. Science to be open to all," the new guidance when fully implemented will "roughly double the number of articles made publicly available each year to about 180,000."

For data, the memo states, "digitally formatted scientific data resulting from unclassified research supported wholly or in part by Federal funding should be stored and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze." The memo includes guidance for researchers to develop data management plans and for agencies to provide appropriate support of data management and costs in research awards.

Draft plans are due to OSTP by August 22.

According to Van Noorden, the OSTP memo was "a response to the 2011 re­authorization of the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which ... charged the OSTP with improving public access to research."

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, lawmakers have started considering another re­authorization of the America COMPETES Act. The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research held a March 6 hearing entitled, "Scientific Integrity & Transparency." Two of the four witnesses were ASA Members Victoria Stodden and Stan Young. The hearing can be viewed here and Stodden's testimony can be read here; Young's here.

In her eight pages of written testimony, Stodden observed that "Reproducibility is a new challenge, brought about by advances in scientific research capability due to immense changes in technology over the last two decades." She called for federally funded digital archives, saying they are necessary for scientific integrity and to accelerate scientific discovery. In her concluding comments, she wrote, "It is imperative that data and code are made conveniently available with published research findings. Data and software availability do not, by themselves, ensure reproducibility of published computational findings, but they are an essential step toward the solution."

In his two pages of written testimony, Young called upon Congress, funding agencies and journal editors "to step up and manage the scientific process" by requiring "authors to deposit study protocol, statistical analysis code and data sets on publication of their paper." Young proposed two laws, one requiring any federal agency proposing rule-making or legislation to "specifically name each document used to support the proposed rule-making or legislation and provide all data used in said document for viewing by the public" and another requiring all data relating to the reporting of  results from a federally funding study "be provided for scrutiny by the public at the time of publication." For more information on the OSTP memo and the hearing, see the following summaries provided by the American Institute of Physics science policy news service, "FYI": OSTP Issues Directive to Federal Agencies on Public Access and House Subcommittee Reviews Access to Data.

I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on the OSTP memo and, more generally, data sharing and reproducibility. Email me here.

See also:
  • Open access: The true cost of science publishing, Nature, Richard Van Noorden, March 28, 2013.
  • Publishing frontiers: The library reboot, (on the role of libraries in data access), Nature, Richard Monastersky, March 28, 2013.
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