This study addresses issues in effective access to data in numerical, symbolic, and image forms by scientists for scientific research purposes, rather than to bibliographic or purely textual information. The focus is on digital rather than analog data, since practically all scientific data are now collected and stored digitally, and most older data are being transferred to digitized electronic formats. The scope of inquiry also is limited to data in the natural sciences, which is the principal subject-matter focus of CODATA.2
Because the sponsors of the study are U.S. federal government science agencies, the committee has emphasized those trends, issues, and barriers that have an impact on international access to data collected and used in publicly funded, basic research programs—that is, scientific research conducted as a public good. Despite this emphasis, the committee took into account the continua between fundamental and applied research, between raw data and processed information, and between public and private uses of scientific data. Indeed, the most vexing public policy issues facing the international scientific community in the exchange of data involve defining the appropriate balance of divergent interests.
Underlying the committee's approach, however, and informing its conclusions and recommendations, is the principle that full and open exchange of scientific data—the ''bits of power" on which the health of the scientific enterprise depends—is vital for advancing the nation's progress and for maximizing the social benefits that accrue from science worldwide.
Freedom of inquiry, the full and open availability of scientific data on an international basis, and the open publication of results are cornerstones of basic research that U.S. law and tradition have long upheld. For many decades, the United States has been a leader in the collection and dissemination of scientific data, and in the discovery and creation of new knowledge. By sharing and exchanging data with the international community and by openly publishing the results of research, all countries, including the United States, have benefited. Today, however, many rapid changes portend significant consequences, some possibly adverse, for the conduct of basic research in the natural sciences.