Subcommittee Discusses Benefits of Open Access to Research Data and Challenges in Implementation

Mar 5, 2013
Subcommittee Discusses Benefits of Open Access to Research Data and Challenges in Implementation

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research held a hearing on the issue of access to data from federally funded published research and the vital role access plays in maintaining the scientific integrity and transparency of peer reviewed research.  Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief, Science Magazine and Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California-San Francisco; Dr. Victoria Stodden, Assistant Professor of Statistics at Columbia University; Dr. Stanley Young, Assistant Director for Bioinformatics at the National Institutes of Statistical Sciences; and Mr. Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management at Johns Hopkins University and Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center.

Subcommittee Members noted the importance of developing a framework for the open sharing of scientific data. The witness panel elaborated upon the practical aspects of developing and implementing such a framework but also highlighted a variety of societal benefits that would arise from making research data and software more readily available for additional studies.

Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) emphasized this value in his opening statement. “We must, of course, respect issues of privacy and intellectual property.  But the more data are open, the faster we will validate new theories and overturn old ones, and the more efficiently we will transform new discoveries into innovations that will create jobs and make us healthier and more prosperous.  The movement toward open data is not primarily about scientific integrity, it’s mostly about speeding up the process of scientific discovery and innovation.”

Mr. Sayeed Choudhury spoke to the important role federal agencies can play to support this kind of advancement. “From a standards perspective, it is important to note that many scientific communities have existing standards for data sharing and access. Even in these cases, developing infrastructure and mechanisms for sharing across disciplines or communities remains a challenge. It may be possible to span across two disciplines or communities through bilateral agreements. However, this approach does not scale for multiple disciplines or communities. While it is possible to develop common denominator standards for discovery of data, there remain fundamental research problems to address interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary data sharing and access. Federal agency funding to support this type of research with the goal of developing working systems or infrastructure would be helpful.”

Dr. Victoria Stodden described the broad value open data has in pushing American innovation and competitiveness. “Making research data and software conveniently available also has valuable corollary effects beyond validating the original associated published results. Other researchers can use them for new research, linking datasets and augmenting results in other areas, or applying the software and methods to new research applications. These powerful benefits will accelerate scientific discovery. Benefits can also accrue to private industry. Again, data and software availability permit business to apply these methods to their own research problems, link with their own datasets, and accelerate innovation and economic growth…American competitiveness can only be increased as we increase the integrity of our scholarly record, and as we make access to scientific innovations, data, and their implementation broadly available to other researchers and to industry.”

Dr. Bruce Alberts addressed the quality of American research and the critical need for maintaining funding for fundamental research. “The strength of U.S. science and technology has been, and will long be, critical for our position as the leading nation of the world. It underlies both our economic success and our military dominance…Critical to maintaining the position of the U.S. in the world will be both the amount and the quality of our long-term fundamental research in science, engineering, and medicine…Exactly how future advances in our fundamental understanding of the universe will lead to such benefits can never be predicted in advance. Nevertheless, based on past experience, we can confidently expect striking breakthroughs to emerge from such research that are completely unimaginable now.”