The careers of researchers often depend on the continuing use of already collected data. Must they give up such data if it means jeopardizing their careers?
Should the public have access to data funded and produced by for-profit entities who oppose a regulation, such as an industry coalition?
Responses to these questions are presented under the identified respondents.
The perspective of a bench scientist (Bruce Alberts-National Academy of Sciences). Science is a community effort; it succeeds only if other scientists can analyze, interpret, and extend each other’s work. Science requires full disclosure and availability to other scientists of the research methods, results, and, when necessary, special materials used in research. For example, Dr. Alberts noted the Human Genome Project requires extensive sharing not only of data, but also of materials, such as DNA clones and human cell lines. Virtually all scientific conclusions are based on a body of evidence, a complex web of studies related to one another in subject matter and reasoning.
While the academic community believes that the OMB did a thoughtful job in narrowing the Shelby Amendment, he said that concerns still exist. For example, the Shelby Amendment includes no “need to know” provision; anyone can request data for any reason. Without some front-end filtering mechanism, there is a danger that the amendment could be used to harass scientists whose work is found objectionable by anyone, for any reason. The potential for harassment is already real in some fields, and additional disincentives could further discourage the best young people from choosing careers in science and thus jeopardize the United States’ leadership position. Therefore, while sharing data with those outside the laboratory environment is a good and necessary idea, bench scientists believe that FOIA is not the best mechanism to achieve this.
The perspective of a funding agency (Wendy Baldwin-NIH). Over the past 10 to 20 years, the norms of data sharing have shifted dramatically, said Dr. Baldwin. Previously, investigators kept very large data sets virtually until they became historical records. Today, they have started to put data into the public domain even before they have published their findings based on the data.
There are several purposes to this custom of data sharing. As the NIH representative said, it “supports and forces scientific inquiry.” Data sharing allows researchers to make maximum use of the very large investments needed to create complex data sets. Additionally, data sets are effective vehicles for teaching the next generation of scientists. They help scientists develop new methodologies and a diversity of analytical views.