The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
society and progress in bettering the human condition. Throughout this process, scientific data are the cumulative substance on which all of science builds.
Data in science are universal—they have the same validity for scientists everywhere. The atomic mass of iron, the structure of DNA, and the amount of rainfall in Manaus in 1972 are facts independent of the political views of their user, the time at which we determine them (apart from the evolving, improving accuracy of the determinations), or the user's location. Their utility depends on the precision and accuracy with which they are determined and the units we use to express them. A DNA sequence or a nuclear cross section can be as important to a researcher in Novosibirsk as it is to another in Pasadena. Consequently, except in situations involving national security, the protection of individual privacy,1 or proprietary rights, scientists have developed an ethic of full and open exchange of data, within and across national boundaries. Although infringements occasionally do occur, they typically generate community disapproval. Full and open exchange of information is a fundamental tenet of basic science that scientists regard as essential to optimizing their own work and that of their colleagues, as well as to enabling the advance of science overall.2
Traditionally, scientific data were compilations in lists, tables, and books—essentially all on paper—which circulated like all other scholarly information, through personal exchanges, subscriptions, and libraries. Today, electronic handling of scientific information is becoming the norm. With this evolution has come a dramatic increase in the international scope of scientific cooperation and exchange of information. While basic science has always been largely a collaborative activity that readily crossed national boundaries, electronic communication has made this cooperation much more informal, intimate, instantaneous, and continuous than ever before. Consequently, scientific data now may flow between scientists in different parts of the world as if they were across the street.
Scientists have been, to a large extent, the creators of the means and the environment for the ethical code governing the open exchange of their data. This is as true in the evolving electronic environment as it has been in the past. Now, however, interests outside the scientific community are exerting forces on that environment that could severely restrict this open exchange. Scientists believe that restrictions on data access will slow the progress of science and significantly diminish the potential benefits that science renders to society.
An important consideration in any discussion of exchange of scientific data concerns the "market" in which scientists participate, and particularly what its "goods" and "return" are. Scientists in academia and government are motivated overwhelmingly by the desire to generate ideas that influence the course of science. They want their papers to be read, so much so that they regularly pay page charges to have those papers published. Traditional concepts of copyright, protection of intellectual property, and financial return to the creator of a written work may apply to a scientist who writes a textbook, but become irrelevant to the researcher publishing a paper in a scientific journal. Publishers of such journals,