Perhaps the most obvious aspect of this charge is its wide scope. The broad nature of the committee's inquiry precluded a comprehensive analysis of all the issues and trends in all the disciplines and across all geographic areas. Moreover, many activities beyond the sphere of science impinge on the transnational exchange of scientific data, a fact that required the committee to establish practical limits on its treatment of these topics.
This report focuses primarily on issues pertaining to scientists' effective access to data in numerical, symbolic, and image form, rather than bibliographic or purely textual data, for research in the natural sciences. However, the committee is acutely aware that distinctions among these categories of data are fading. Most of the discussion concerns 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.
With regard to the needs for data in the physical, astronomical, geological, and biological sciences, the report incorporates by reference the more detailed and thorough analyses of research strategies produced in recent years by the National Research Council for the various natural sciences. The importance of data for fundamental research across these disciplines is described in a summary overview at the beginning of Chapter 3 and is highlighted in various examples throughout the report.
Because the sponsors of the study are U.S. federal government science agencies, the committee has emphasized trends, issues, and barriers that have an impact on international access to data collected and used in the context of publicly funded, basic research programs. 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 involve defining the appropriate balance of competing interests.
In addressing the international aspects of data exchange, the committee conducted a widely disseminated informal inquiry to develop at least an anecdotal sense of what data issues trouble the international scientific community today.7 The issues were broadly divided into those affecting the economically most developed nations, defined as the countries belonging to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and those confronting the developing countries. The committee recognizes, however, that the developing countries encompass a wide spectrum of economic and technical capacities; illustrative examples of major issues are provided with reference to specific regions, countries, or institutions.
Finally, in its deliberations the committee discovered certain matters that were central to the subject but were not explicitly included in its charge. Although expressly requested to provide its advice to the agencies that supported this study, the committee became aware that many of the issues and barriers pertinent to global access to scientific data could only be addressed collectively