House Subcommittee reviews access to data

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Publication date: 
13 March 2013

"We want to maximize access to data while protecting personal privacy, avoid any negative impact on intellectual property rights and innovation, and preserve data without ridiculous cost or administrative burdens,” explained House Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) at a March 5 hearing on “scientific integrity and transparency.”  This hearing by a subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee came less than two weeks after a memorandumwas issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy “to increase access to federally funded published research and digital scientific data.” 

The House Science Committee has shown much interest in public access to federally-sponsored research.  A year ago the committee’s Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight had a hearing on scientific publications.  The committee convened a roundtable on access, and was responsible for public access provisions in the America COMPETES reauthorization act.

The March 5 hearing on access to data was relatively low-key.  There were few discernible differences in the views of the subcommittee’s members, and the four witnesses.  The hearing lasted about an hour, with the first half devoted to the opening statements of Chairman Bucshon and Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), and opening witness testimony.  Both representatives have firsthand experience with data; Bucshon as a cardiothoracic surgeon and Lipinski as a university faculty member who taught political science.

Four witnesses appeared before the subcommittee: Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine; Victoria Stodden, Columbia University; S. Stanley Young, National Institute of Statistical Sciences; and G. Sayeed Choudhury, The Johns Hopkins University.  There was little disagreement among the witnesses about the importance of increasing public access to data to ensure reproducibility of results, for further discovery, and as a basis for innovation.  The witnesses discussed  uneven responses to public requests for data produced during federally-funded research, and the importance of access to data and associated code and software.  There was agreement that more must be done to ensure access, and a general consensus that federal agencies need to mandate data management and access standards. 

There was also recognition that there are issues that must be resolved about the definition and standards of archival data; the technology of managing large data collections; the storage platforms through which data, code, and software would be made available; data migration; avoidance of unnecessary paperwork; and the financing of data management.  Beyond this there is a need for a change in the traditional culture of how researchers have previously shared data and an incentive system that recognizes and rewards published articles but not data.  Issues concerning the importance of protecting intellectual property and American competitiveness were also discussed.   

While there was not a great deal of discussion about the OSTP memorandum, solid support was voiced for it by subcommittee members and witnesses, with one witness calling it “a major advance forward,” while another cautioned against “a one size fits all solution.”   Lipinski aptly summarized the next steps in this ongoing process as the “practical issues of implementation.”