Recent Developments in Environmental Data Access Policies in the Peoples’ Republic of China
Chinese Academy of Sciences
I would like to discuss the opportunity that exists for developing countries in open access to scientific data, using the recent developments in environmental data access policies in China as an example. There is a new milestone in scientific development in China. A new strategy for data sharing was developed in 2002. This presentation will discuss the transformation toward this new strategy, environmental data policy reform in this process, the challenges this strategy presents to China, and some lessons learned thus far.
CHINA’S NEW SCIENCE STRATEGY
China established a new national science strategy in 2002 “to promote the implementation of a national strategy in education and science and enhance the innovative ability of science and technology of the country.” The aim of this strategy is to enhance open access to digital scientific resources as well as infrastructure.
The impetus for developing these open-access principles is found in China’s long history, which has been well documented in cultural records. China has more than 1,000 different kinds of yearbooks that deal with topics such as economics, forestry, as well as many others. There are also 5,000 to 6,000 major databases that have been developed and are updated regularly. In addition, different agencies house different data, so there are also thousands of data nodes in China. Yet, despite the abundance of data resources, many scientists, students, and academics have not been able to access these data.
Before 1970 all of the data records in China were paper-based but freely available. Users were able to access these data from the government and the libraries. Beginning in 1978 two categories for scientific data were created. One was confidential data. The other was for public use, but with the advent of the digital age data were now available for a fee. This market-oriented approach to data access was a big problem. In 1994 Professor Sun Shu, among others, submitted a complaint letter to the government asking for policy reform.
Chinese policy makers recognized the need to enhance data sharing and slowly began to consider how to make data more openly accessible. This was fueled in part by China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Membership in the WTO was very important for China, making it open its doors and learn from international organizations and other countries. In 2001 the Ministry of the Information Industry of China started the Government Online Program. The Electronic Administration Program was established in 2002 by the National Planning Commission. Both of these related programs are huge endeavors.
Currently in China scientists have a voice in changing policy. Scientists have submitted several proposals to the central government, which was already considering how to change policy to form new strategies in science. In 2002 the National Council approved the proposal to start the new strategies, which would be operated by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. In January 2003 the Ministry of Finance launched a long-term budget for the new program.
There are five major elements in the transformation to the new strategy: scientific databases; information, including journals; big equipment; biological specimens, especially for agriculture; and an information network. In addition, five sectors support the national strategy and market planning. The first is legislation, which establishes the different levels of law and regulations that govern the strategy. The second is budget, which tracks the money needed each year. The third is a new administrative approach, which is very challenging. Fourth, new technologies and standards are needed to support the strategy. Finally, a team of human resources is also required. With regard to the latter element, China is seeking international cooperation to learn from and work with other national and international organizations to help China make this transformation a success.
ENVIRONMENTAL DATA POLICY REFORM IN CHINA
Environmental data policy reform in China is a big issue. The environmental data policy was chosen as the first open-access project because of its importance. In addition, environmental data have many users. Meteorological data were the subject of a pilot project in 2002. In 2003 hydrological, seismological, and cartographical data and remote-sensing data were added.
Remotely sensed data in China include Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data from NASA. Initially everyone held their own data and did not share them with others. For example, students and professors at the agricultural university in Beijing could not obtain data. This was an important problem that illustrated that unless data are shared the government money is wasted.
In the end Chinese policy makers recognized three different categories of data and information and set up different legal frameworks for each mechanism. The first category is confidential data and information, which are protected due to serious national security concerns. The second category includes commercial data. The final category is public-domain data and information.
China has also passed a survey and mapping law along with several other regulations; one is an order of the President on access to the meteorology database of China, while other regulations concern access to the survey and mapping database, as well as to the geology, hydrology, and seismology databases.
NEW CHALLENGES FOR OPEN ACCESS TO SCIENTIFIC DATA AND INFORMATION IN CHINA
China is currently facing great challenges. One challenge is making the government agencies’ data available for research and education. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130 data and information policy is a good example, but it simply does not work in China. This is because the budget of China’s central government is not large enough, and each agency has many people working on these issues. If the agencies work together, people will lose their jobs, which is a big problem in itself.
The second challenge is dealing with the data coming from research projects. This relates to how the government balances the individual principal investigators with the various research institutes and data centers. Many researchers want to share their data, but do not have the resources to do so. In addition, to which data centers should researchers submit these data and who funds the operations of these data centers?
The issue of open access to Chinese data by international users is another challenge. Internal use is considered acceptable because the Chinese pay taxes, and should be able to use government-generated data and information for free. Outside the country, people do not pay taxes to the Chinese government, so should international users be charged a fee? Policies should be established to deal with this issue.
Several more challenges remain. One involves the role of data centers and libraries in providing open access to the data and the information. There is also a challenge in managing the data with updated technology, especially
for archiving and dissemination. Data archiving is a very critical issue in developing countries, especially in China. Another challenge is how to link the data communities with research communities, which should be discussed within the data community.
China needs at least five years to complete this planned transformation. From our experience thus far we have learned that there is an opportunity for industry and developing countries in open access to scientific data. It is important to share experiences to try to understand and learn from each other. For example, the United States has a policy of full and open access to government-funded data and information. Other models that should be studied are employed in Europe. We should talk about these issues, and international organizations should assist in providing these opportunities. Keeping the communication channels open is very important.
China should seriously consider how to make this transformation a success. Scientists, of course, play a very important role because the transformation is related to new technology and knowledge. The government plays a critical role in the transformation as well. Scientists and government officials should work together. The upcoming World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva provides a good venue for such cooperation.
We also should link the data community with the research community, as previously stated. CODATA and the ICSU data community should work with the research communities.
Finally, it is important to pay attention to training and recognize the role of young scientists in the new data and information technology transformation.