Assuming the requisite geographical linkage data are obtained, the issue of protecting the confidentiality of respondents arises. Below the country or perhaps provincial scale, virtually all social science data are obtained with the promise of protecting the confidentiality of individuals, households, organizations, and often communities. For a variety of ethical reasons it is essential that this confidentiality be maintained. Yet doing so makes it impossible to have geo-linked public use files for the research community. Efforts need to be made to facilitate building a secure system that can link social science data to biophysical data to meet legitimate research needs while simultaneously protecting the confidentiality of respondents.
Solutions might include the establishment of physical places where researchers could go to do their analyses under appropriately supervised conditions or a system that involved appropriate legal safeguards backed up by enforceable penalties. The involved federal agencies need to establish a mechanism to study the problem and put an effective solution in place. Without effective solutions, scientific progress will be severely constrained.
Linkages between human health and ecosystem information can combine environmental monitoring with consequences and impact monitoring. For example, NSF's long-term ecological research site in New Mexico now traps rodents for hantaviruses, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data systems that integrate health outcomes with remote sensing/geographic information system mapping can help researchers evaluate climate and land use impacts on food sources, predators, and habitats for rodents and other ecosystem changes with human consequences.
Linking social and biophysical data presumes stable funding for archiving and disseminating human dimensions data and sufficient financial resources to permit upgrading as the storage and dissemination technology changes. Both the Social and Economic Data and Applications Center and the Institute for Cooperative Programs in Survey Research have experienced substantial uncertainties and interannual fluctuations in their funding, which in turn has created problems for the research community. When the dissemination mechanism involves individual projects, mechanisms need to be in place to continue the archiving and dissemination of these datasets after the project is complete.
In addition, the time is right to carefully examine the extent to which existing and planned social science data serve the science needs of the global research agenda. This issue is discussed more extensively in Chapter 9, but brief reference is needed here. The bulk of social, economic, and health data used in human dimensions of global research is collected for other purposes, at scales well below the global level. To date, the principal federal agencies involved in collecting social science data in the United States and abroad (Census Bureau, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and Agency for International Development) have not been part of the USGCRP. Furthermore, as discussed earlier in this chapter, human observations raise confidentiality issues that