critical ecosystem and natural resources dynamics are affected by human and environmental changes.
Incentives for Scientists
Staff incentives for sharing data are an important component of successful implementation and management of an SDI. The USGS workforce consists primarily of research scientists—there are nearly 2,000 full-time research-grade scientists. Like their academic counterparts, USGS scientists are evaluated through an annual research graded evaluation (RGE) process and rewarded on the basis of their scholarly productivity. Productivity is typically measured by scientific outputs such as publication in peer-reviewed journal articles and original research. Salary increases for and career advancement of scientists typically require prolific publication and high-impact research. Because research scientists are rewarded through publication and research, there are few compelling reasons for scientists to invest time and effort in sharing data unless these include scientific collaborations that directly involve co-authorship of scholarly output. As Nobel laureate and current US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has remarked, “We seek solutions. We don’t seek—dare I say this—just scientific papers any more” (Del Vecchio, 2007).
The RGE process does not consider data-sharing as an output category, and USGS budgets do not sufficiently allocate for resources that are needed to share data efficiently. As a result, scientists are often reluctant to make their data available until they have been interpreted and published. A potential solution is to modify the RGE process in such a way that USGS scientists are evaluated on the data they shared. Another possible solution for this “publish or perish” problem could be a requirement that USGS-funded projects have part of their budget devoted to data-sharing and that proposals include plans for data-sharing. One example is the funding model in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which requires free and open access to data in an SDI; such an arrangement would probably result in greater utility of USGS data and improved relevance of the USGS itself. The USGS will also need to devise career incentives for scientists to provide open access to data and to partner with non-USGS researchers and organizations. That would require the support of skilled employees whose responsibility would be to facilitate data-sharing among USGS divisions. An SDI could be the integration tool for data-sharing inasmuch as most Survey data are inherently spatial. The diversity of data and of technological and scientific approaches makes it necessary for scientists to partner and to leverage expertise and knowledge.