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Data Access, Data Preservation and Data Publication Issues (2/1/13)

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Access to high-quality, scientific data is important for geoscience research, development and education. It is important that federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, are able to maintain accessible databases on natural resources, geologic and geophysical information, and basic information such as topography. In addition to government research, much information is collected by the academic and private sectors using, at least in part, U.S. federal funding. Though this information is often competitive and proprietary, many feel that any research coming from taxpayers’ dollars should be publicly accessible. Geosciences are global, so it is important that data is maintained and accessible worldwide.

The government plays a role in these issues by maintaining federal databases and helping to ensure data access in other countries through funding and federal preservation programs. In addition, the federal government has been held increasingly accountable for data integrity and the quality of scientific data it uses in policymaking. Funding and legislation will hopefully continue to provide widespread access to scientifically sound data. The 111th Congress approved the reauthorization of America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which authorizes increases for research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department’s Office of Science. It requires the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate and organize public access to government-funded research, including the development of online databases of scientific information within agencies. How the requirement will affect peer-reviewed journals and publishers, though, is unknown.

Some of AGI's member societies have issued their own position statements on data preservation and open access.

Recent Action

 

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Previous Action

Issa Will Not Seek Passage of Research Work Act, Elsevier Drops Support (02/12)
After initially supporting the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) when it was introduced in December of 2011, Elsevier released a statement on February 27 withdrawing support of the bill. H.R. 3699 would prevent any federal agency from disseminating any private-sector research paper without the permission of the publisher, author, or employer.  

H.R. 3699 was introduced by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and is cosponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).  The measure would prevent federal agencies from any type of “network dissemination” of “private-sector research” without the prior consent of the publisher, or the assent of the author or employer.  “Private-sector research” is defined as an article intended to be published in a scientific journal describing or interpreting research funded by a federal agency to which the publisher has entered into an agreement to make a value-added contribution such as editing or peer review.  Since Elsevier’s withdrawal of support, Issa has announced he will no longer seek passage of the bill. 

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Background

Data is important for geoscience research and development and geoscience education. Federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, maintain data on natural resources and basic details such as topography. It is important that these databases are maintained and accessible. Geosciences are global and it is also important that data from around the world is maintained and accessible. The federal government plays a role in these issues by maintaining federal data and helping to ensure data access in other countries.

In addition to government data, information is also collected by the academic, private and other sectors. Much of the information collected by the U.S. academic sector is derived from federal funding in the U.S. and thus should be maintained and accessible. Information collected by the private sector is competitive and proprietary. Over time, some private sector information becomes non-proprietary, but can remain useful for the broad geoscience community if there is some mechanism to maintain this data.

Efforts are being made to preserve this data as well as other data within federal-state-local partnerships. One example of such a partnership, supported by the 109th Congress, is the data preservation section of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The section authorizes funding for the U.S. Geological Survey Data Preservation Program in partnership with the state geological surveys to maintain data, including that contributed by the private sector.

In April 2012, six federal agencies announced the new Big Data Research and Development Initiative which will provide more than $200 million across the six departments and agencies to improve the cyberinfrastrucure and techniques to store, access, organize, and acquire information from large amounts of data. Funds will support EarthCube, the Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Institute, and the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis.

Data is also important to scientific publications and concerns have been raised regarding access to data or to publications. Responding to similar concerns, United Kingdom is requiring tax-payer funded research be publicly available beginning in April 2013. The European Commission (EC) followed suit by opening all work funded by the Horizon 2012 research program in hopes of having about 60 percent of European funded research available by 2016. The U.S. Congress has received some pressure, particularly from health-related groups to make publications that are in part or wholly supported by federal funds accessible to the public without any fees. Authors and publishers add value to the publications and hold copyrights, making no-fee access difficult to implement. Nonetheless, Congress required the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a database of all publications funded by NIH in whole or in part and all authors must voluntarily submit their publications to the database.

Although the intent is to make federally-funded publications accessible to the taxpayers who pay for the research, the measure seems to work outside copyright law and can negatively impact non-profit society journals. Non-profit society journals tend to have a long history of high quality publications and the publications provide needed support for their societies. If the NIH model would be applied to all federally funded science then geoscience society journals might suffer serious deterioration and lead to the demise of the societies themselves. This would lead to a reduction of high quality publications and an increase in commercial publication prices (as commercial publishers would not have to compete with lower cost non-profit publishers).

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) in December 2011 with the support of Elsevier in an attempt to prevent any federal agency from disseminating any private-sector research paper without the permission of the publisher, author, or employer.  Elsevier withdrew support in February 2012 and Issa chose not to continue pursing passage of the bill.

Other publishing companies have made strides in providing open access resources. In February 2011, publishing company Wiley announced the launch of Wiley Open Access which will publish three open access journals: Brain and Behavior, Ecology and Evolution, and a microbiology journal. Nature Publishing Group (NPG) has also increased their open access option allowing researchers to self-archive articles for free or have their work published immediately for open access for a publication fee.

The idea that federally-funded publications should be available to the public was taken further by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who, in April 2010, sent several subpoenas to the University of Virginia (UVA) to try and obtain emails and documents related the research of their former professor Michael Mann, a climate scientist previously involved in the Climate Research Unit email controversy. UVA challenged the subpoenas and the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in March 2012 that Cuccinelli did not have the authority to request such information. This case was seen as a victory for academic freedom and could set a precedent for similar requests for academic research files.

In the past decade, data integrity has become more of an issue. Accusations of political appointees changing scientific data to further their own goals have called into question the reliability and quality of data being released by the government. A 2003 report by the House Committee on Government Reform said the Bush Administration had “manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings.” A follow-up report in 2007, Political Interference with Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration, found that the White House censored climate change scientists and significantly edited climate change reports. In addition, the variety of sources and ease of access provided by the internet presents another problem in monitoring the integrity of scientific data. Responding to these concerns, President Obama introduced a Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity in March 2009. In response, the White House OSTP released scientific integrity guidelines for federal agencies on December 17, 2010, which mandates federal agencies to release their guidelines within 120 days of the OSTP release. In December 2011, NOAA completed and made publicly available their Administrative Order 202-735D on scientific integrity.

The Federal Information Quality Act
On February 22, 2002, in accordance with the Data Quality Act (Section 515 of Public Law 106-554), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released Information-Quality Guidelines. These were issued to promote "the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies.'' The OMB also directed all federal agencies to implement their own guidelines to correct information that did not comply with those released by OMB.

The Data Quality Act aimed to quell concerns about the accuracy of federal data.  The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness claimed, “Federal agencies regularly publish information on which influential policies or decisions are made that have significant impact on the economy of a region or even the entire nation or that can influence wrong decisions about public and private investments, opportunities and other issues. States, cities, counties, as well as private and public organizations, and citizens in general have had difficulties getting the federal agencies to either substantiate the information published or correct the information to ensure its quality.”

OMB defines information "quality" as information that offers utility, objectivity, and integrity to information consumers where:

  • Utility is the usefulness of the disseminated information to the intended consumers.
  • Objectivity is that the disseminated information is presented in an accurate, clear, complete and unbiased manner and, as a matter of substance, is accurate, reliable and unbiased.
  • Integrity refers to security: the protection of information from unauthorized access or revision (modification) to ensure that the information is not compromised through corruption or falsification.

Agencies must define these terms in a rigorous, operational fashion to ensure that they have a shared understanding with their customers of the information provided."

For online access to the agency specific OMB guidelines go to the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness Website.

Additional Data Issues
The 111th Congress passed the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, (H.R. 5116), which authorizes increases for research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department’s Office of Science. The act requires the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate and organize public access to government-funded research, including the development of online databases of scientific information within agencies. Congress included a statement recognizing the role of scientific publishers in the peer-review process; however, non-profit science societies will need to consider the impacts of this legislation on the quality and value of their long-standing journals.

The 112th Congress passed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (P.L. 112-029) to change the U.S. patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” model. The measure seeks to improve patent quality, reduce backlogs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and provide funds to ensure processing of the 700,000 backlogged applications in USPTO.

In February 2011, a Beijing appeals court upheld the sentencing of American geologist Xue Feng to eight years in prison and a $30,000 fine for collecting information from a classified Chinese oil industry database. Feng argued that the information was commercially and publicly available when he obtained it and was classified retroactively by the government

Sources: AGI's Monthly Review.

Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy Staff; Kimberley Corwin, 2013 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Data Quality and Public Access in the 112th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on February 1, 2013


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