problem can be particularly acute in developing countries, where lack of access to data from developed countries can stymie not only the development of research capacity but advances in economic productivity, public health, and well-being.


Restricting access to data can be costly and wasteful, but there also are circumstances in which providing access to data can entail substantial costs and waste. There are situations in which responding to requests for data could actually slow the progress of research, and there have been instances in which requests for data have been intended to inhibit research.

It is not uncommon for a small research group to lack the resources to make data readily accessible. Especially as data collections grow in size and complexity, small groups may have difficulty providing data to other researchers in the same field, much less making data readily accessible to researchers in fields less directly connected to the research, or to the public.

Access to data can also become an issue of contention in cases where research has important implications for public policy or has a potential for affecting private interests in such areas as the environment or health. An early example was the case of Paul Fischer, who was subpoenaed in the early 1990s by a tobacco company after publication of his research showing widespread recognition among young children of the “Joe Camel” character used in cigarette advertising.19 Fischer initially was subpoenaed in a lawsuit to which he was not subject. In addition to requesting details about the research that would be considered reasonable and necessary to replicate the results, the subpoena contained more problematic demands, such as personal details about the subjects. According to his own account, Fischer’s institution, the Medical College of Georgia, refused to provide legal support. After Fischer, using his own attorney, had quashed the subpoena, the Medical College of Georgia’s counsel wrote an article that had the effect of alerting R.J. Reynolds to an alternative legal mechanism, the Georgia Open Records Act. Under this act, Fischer ultimately was compelled to turn over all the information except the children’s names.

Perhaps the most famous recent example involved a research project to reconstruct global temperature trends over the last two millennia. A 1998 paper by Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University and two co-authors made extensive use of proxy studies in which paleoclimatic conditions were inferred from measurements of tree rings, sediments, coral, glaciers, oxygen isotopes, and other phenomena, concluding that global surface temperatures


Paul M. Fischer. 1996. “Science and subpoenas: When do the courts become instruments of manipulation?” Law & Contemporary Problems 29:159–167.

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