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Publicly-Funded Research Data is Public?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the if-you-paid-for-it-shouldn't-you-be-able-to-use-it dept.


Elektroschock asks: "Public data belongs to the public, some advocates believe. BSD Unix is one of the most striking business examples of that 'public data' rule. Gauss and Google made patent data available. But what about classical research results? Should free access to knowledge get regulated? A new petition supported by Open Society Institute wants free public access to research: 'Evidence is accumulating to indicate that research that is openly accessible is read more and used more and that open access to research findings would bring economic advantage'. How do scientists feel about it? Does public funding really turn their results into public property?"

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Nuclear Engineering... (1)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662514)

seems like a good counter example.

Re:Nuclear Engineering... (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662652)

"A few household chemicals in the proper proportions." would seem to be a better one. Much easier to get a hold of the components.

Re:Nuclear Engineering... (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662942)

Not really.

Often in engineering the most important thing to know is that something can be done. Oh, having the details may spare you a few years of toil, but a nation with access to fissionables and with physicists at its disposal will get there sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Re:Nuclear Engineering... (2, Informative)

displague (4438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664006)

The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab [] does fusion research and development, and because it is Department of Energy [] funded everything there, including salaries, is available to the public on request.

Don't Know (1)

dsraistlin (901406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662536)

I don't know if it is open but if it is not it should be.

is tax supported research open? (3, Informative)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668514)

I don't know if it is open but if it is not it should be.

Not all public research data is open or publicly available. For instance the NCI, National Cancer Institute [] , spent $183,000,000 developing Taxol [] , a drug used in the treatment of cancer. What did the NCI do with the research data it came up with? It sold the data to BMS, Bristol-Myers Squibb, for $43,000,000. Not only did BMS pay less than 1/4 the cost of developing Taxol but it also got exclusive rights to the research. It was estimated that in 2000 BMS was to make $1,000,000,000, one billion dollars, in sales of Taxol, and another billion per year thereafter.


The vaccine-research enthusiasts may like it (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17662562)

They often complain that the "data" provided is obfuscated or mischaracterized.

free (5, Insightful)

spune (715782) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662596)

If public money funds research, it is unthinkable that the public should be forbidden to review the product of their contributions. Even things that GWB would label 'threats to national security'; the government exists to facilitate public interest, not to manipulate us like pawns. We have a right to know what is going on, and in the case of research, there is little, if any, defense provided in saying that information is simply too dangerous for normal people to know.

Re:free (1)

Jim_Maryland (718224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662792)

What about AIDs related data? Do you think information that contains personal data should be released to the public? I'm all for data being available but some of it really should have some restrictions to protect privacy.

Re:free (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662842)

There is a HUGE difference between public research results and public research data. Many studies involve confidentiality, no one is suggesting this be removed.

Re:free (1)

milamber3 (173273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664174)

Wow, you should really know at least a little about clinical research before you come posting nonsense about revealing private data. Everything of this nature is covered in HIPAA the IRB approved protocol that governs the study. Even the people who pay to read the research can not get that kind of identifying information. The group that conducted the study will have any Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that they collected locked up safe and/or encrypted in their database for the set number of years they must retain it but no one will release that without permission from a patient and even getting the permission requires more permission first.

Re:free (1)

Jim_Maryland (718224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17667808)

Isn't the point of the article though that information funded publicly is public? HIPAA and IRB could arguably be restrictions to portions of the data but one could argue that if that information is publicly funded then it too should be open. You are terming the data as private but it could still be publicly funded and therefore could be released under the premise that all publicly funded data is public. HIPAA and IRB (sorry...not familiar with IRB) are essentially rules for protecting data but it isn't that different than arbitrary rules to keep data from being disclosed.

Re:free (1)

Merkwurdigeliebe (1046824) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663456)

For the most part I'd agree. It should be freely accessible --to a point, depending on many criteria. But free to whom, the whole world or only to the citizens of the goverment governing the taxed citizens (their money) in question or any denizen of the world? How would we keep it from getting into thte wrong hands?

And what about publicly funded high-technology? The sort that other countries with less cash or resources go about doing industrial espionage for.

Let's say the feds fund some ultra-secret (say, weapons) research at various national laboratories. Should that research be available to thine enemy -or even to the general citizenry amongst whom might live some reckless individuals who think they know what's best for them or their followers?

Re:free (2, Insightful)

Sancho (17056) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665432)

It's not really all that complicated.

Anything which the public is allowed to have (I.E. it's not classified as top secret or as a something which is illegal for civilians to possess) should be publicly available. For anything else, it's largely irrelevant.

The problem here is that tax dollars are being funnelled into companies so that they can research. They then turn around and get patents on the work so that they can exclusively provide that product or service.

I might be ok with one or two years of exclusivity, depending upon the product/technology. It's highly likely that the company would get this anyway, given their jump-start on the tech. But getting a full patent's term is absurd. My tax dollars should not be spent making a corporation billions of dollars.

Re:free (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17672300)

"... amongst whom might live some reckless individuals who think they know what's best for them or their followers..."

Kind of like.. hmm... politicians and unelected officials?

I never get over how much blind faith some people have in authority. Just because some people have more power than you doesn't mean they're in any way better human beings, or working for your (vs. their own) benefit. More often than not, it's just the opposite.

Re:free (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 7 years ago | (#17672758)

If public money funds research, it is unthinkable that the public should be forbidden to review the product of their contributions. We have a right to know what is going on, and in the case of research, there is little, if any, defense provided in saying that information is simply too dangerous for normal people to know.

I read this and just giggled. Of course, we don't have a right to alot of the R&D that government does on our behave. That just pressed slashdot buttons right there. I'll tell you 3 things that you don't need to know: 1 what the CIA, NSA, FBI or DOD builds, 2 nuclear weapons, biowarfare agents, cheap chemical weapons or homemade explosives, urban guerilla warfare tactics, 3 the cover my ass and our friends ass clause that we don't want you to learn about something until we aren't just retired, but buried so we don't have to have reporters pestering us through our retirements for morally questionable things we did with public funds. I think that we need a that is responsible for all the nations "public to its citizens" data. (I'd require my citizens to register and log in to make sure only my citizens were reading all that info though.) I'd hope civilian usage products would be held for the public trust and any US company could use the info. There are plenty of things that we just don't need to know that was funded by our tax dollars. I'd love to have the plans for stealth bombers to look at, but I would hope that they'll never release that info through a FIOA request.

Re:free (1)

deblau (68023) | more than 7 years ago | (#17675102)

Almost all work that goes on at the NSA, CIA, and the rest of the three letter agencies is funded by public money -- your position is tantamount to putting a 'research exception' into the entire classified documents system. Read this [] , which is everything you need to know about the system. The U.S. Treasury funds all sorts of nuclear weapons research programs, missile R&D, naval warfare tests, etc. You want everyone in the world getting their hands on that data?? Truth is, you really don't have a right to know that stuff, for reasons which are too obvious to lay out, and certainly not 'unthinkable'.

Just so you know I'm not blowing smoke up your ass, here's a list of things you don't have a right to know, taken from 4-202 of that link I gave. It's a sensible list, and you should think very carefully about what's on it and why. Documents the Government doesn't automatically declassify are those that could reasonably:

(1) Reveal an intelligence source, method, or activity, or a cryptologic system or activity;
(2) Reveal information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction;
(3) Reveal information that would impair the development or use of technology within a United States weapon system;
(4) Reveal United States military plans, or national security emergency preparedness plans;
(5) Reveal foreign government information;
(6) Damage relations between the United States and a foreign government, reveal a confidential source, or seriously undermine diplomatic activities that are reasonably expected to be ongoing for a period greater than 10 years;
(7) Impair the ability of responsible United States Government officials to protect the President, the Vice President, and other individuals for whom protection services, in the interest of national security, are authorized;
(8) Violate a statute, treaty, or international agreement.

The real issue here is where we draw the line between things that really should be classified, and things which shouldn't. The list above just exempts the document from automatic declassification -- documents are routinely classified for other reasons. The extent of the system is an ongoing debate, one for which both sides have valid arguments. It's certainly not going to be resolved by a few posts on Slashdot, especially by the vast majority of posters who have no idea how politics, national defense, or international relations work.

yes (3, Insightful)

lavaface (685630) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662604)

absolutely public data should be public, just not mine ; P Seriously, if taxpayer money is used, the public should be able to access the results of studies, etc. To a large extent, I would argue it's already like this. Many academic publications are available online at the local state university. Of course, not too many people use that resource. The real travesty is when public money is used to fund research that benefits the public, but the fruits of the research are appropriated and patented by corporate concerns like pharmaceutical companies. The USGS lockdown of some map data is another example of abuse of public knowledge. I also happen to think the national telecommuncations infrastructure should be nationalized, but that's another discussion . . . ; )

Re:yes (2, Interesting)

yankpop (931224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663106)

Many academic publications are available online at the local state university.

The publications are available, to anyone living close enough to a university to use the library. But the data is most definitely not. Open access data, at least in biology, is still the exception, rather than the rule. Even with journals that have online supplements, the extra material is usually more detailed analysis, not the data itself.

The exception in my field relates to gene sequences, which must be submitted to an open access repository like Genbank. This enables two important avenues for research. First, we can verify that the sequences used in a study were correct - if they don't match independently produced sequences for the same species then the results of the study will need to be reconsidered. Second, the time and effort that went into producing those sequences need not be duplicated by other researchers. Both are important in moving the science forward.

The whole scientific process is finally starting to take full advantage of the benefits of the internet. At this point there is no reason for all studies and their data to be publicly available for no additional fee beyond the tax money that was invested in their creation. The only thing preventing this is the inertia associated with the current publishing/funding system. It will take some time to develop a new working model, but it will happen.


Re:yes (1)

shalla (642644) | more than 7 years ago | (#17673492)

Seriously, if taxpayer money is used, the public should be able to access the results of studies, etc. To a large extent, I would argue it's already like this. Many academic publications are available online at the local state university.

Except that the library has paid for those, and access is generally limited to students and faculty, and the library does not OWN the results (even if the research was conducted at that university) but rather is paying a vendor for licensed, limited-time access. And it's generally a horrendously high fee.

Also, note that a great deal of the publishing rights for research in the US don't belong to the universities or the scientists who conducted the research. They belong to the companies that own the scientific journals, so they decide on the terms for access. That gives the general public no right to access them, as most university license agreements for scientific database access are limited to those associated with the university as faculty, staff, or students.

And good luck once your library can't afford the academic journal subscriptions anymore. Cornell cancelled its Reed Elsevier academic journal package in 2003 [] and libraries of all types are having trouble purchasing the licenses for you to access the information.

So... it isn't free public access. Not the same thing at all. As a librarian currently trying to figure out what databases the public library consortium I'm in can afford, I can promise you that. ;)

Apologies for any repitition in this post. I should know better than to try and write something at work.

Would it really matter? (1)

mdboyd (969169) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662634)

It seems to me that we (the public) pay taxes to a government for research that bends the truth or tells us flat-out lies in addition to keeping some of their research a secret. Is that what we're paying them for? Would anything stop them? Most importantly, does anyone care?... or would they rather just "live their lives" and not have to worry about what their government does?

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662936)

That is really a different issue, but probably a bigger issue. The question of research being made public that was done with public funds, is yes!

The US Government really needs to overhaul how public funds are spent on research. IMHO, the government should only be spending money on fundamental, groundbreaking type research. A good example of this is stem cells, the government should no longer be funding any type of stem cell research, the basic understanding of how stem cells work has been done, the work now centers around finding applications for them, private money should be used for this, since private companies are the ones that will benefit from the application of the research.

Unfortunately in the current setup, Congress determines where public monies are spent on research, they are pretty much the last group of people that should decide how money is spent on research (and certainly on a lot of things as well). Congresses role should end at approval of a budget for research, a independent body, made up of researchers representing all/many areas of expertise, should then decide how that money is allocated.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664316)

Hi, Ph.D. Biology researcher here.

A good example of this is stem cells, the government should no longer be funding any type of stem cell research, the basic understanding of how stem cells work has been done, the work now centers around finding applications for them,

You have no clue what you are talking about here. There is a lot of the biology of stem cells that we simply don't understand at all yet. There is a ton of basic research that needs done to understand how they do things. All that is basic fundamental biology and has nothing to do with applying that information to make products.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664830)

If there really is basic research still to do, fine, but if that research has any applications to real products, then public money shouldn't be used, because ultimately a corporation will benefit from it and that is just another form of corporate welfare, and the government shouldn't be in the business of helping private corporations!

Most of the articles I read, addressing the lack of public funding for stem cells, centers around research for specific applications, such as MJF's push for using stem cells to find a cure for Parkinson's, that is a specific application of stem cells and should be pursued with private funds. Public funds need to go to helping the largest percentage of the population first, using public funds to find cures to afflictions that affect a small percentage of the population is not the best use for those funds.

I also suspect, you being a "Ph.D in Biology", you don't speak from a completely unbiased point of view, since your livelihood at least partially depends on public funding...

Re:Would it really matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17665222)

How do you predict which research will apply to real products?

What about nonprofits? Can they do research that applies to real products?
The articles you are reading are about specific applications because that is the most efficient way to apply legislative pressure. Who wants to be against a cure for Parkinson's? (Or Alzheimer's etc etc.) That research is also driven by practical considerations: the brain damage that causes Parkinson's is localized and easy to define. If you can get stem cells to fix that localized damage, and can understand how they fixed it, then you can figure out the harder problem of fixing the global brain damage that comes with aging. (And Alzheimer's and Vascular Dementia).
Research is done based on what experiment will be the most effective for learning how something works - not on how many people it might benefit if you are lucky enough for it to work. What benefits the most people is policy guesswork, not science.

I'm posting AC, but I'm not the parent poster, and I'm not a scientist.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17666112)

Nonprofits are actually how more government money should be spent, and if their research results in an application/product and no one profits from it, then that is fine. My problem is large corporations (not just drug companies) putting their hands under the government slot machine, taking tax payer money and profiting from it.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665492)

I don't work for any companies, so I'm not about creating a product. I'm doing basic research to understand biology. I don't directly work on stem cells, so this debate has nothing to do with my livelihood.

Most of the articles I read, addressing the lack of public funding for stem cells, centers around research for specific applications, such as MJF's push for using stem cells to find a cure for Parkinson's, that is a specific application of stem cells and should be pursued with private funds

As a researcher, I often talk about theoretical indirect benefits that come from the basic research I do. The general public usually has no understanding and no interest about hearing about the intricacies of a signal transduction cascade, and what kinases may or may not be activating specific proteins. In order to put our research into language the general public might understand we will often extrapolate what further research from our basic research might lead to, if we can only understand the fundamental biology behind it. That's why people working on the biology of telomeres, etc, will talk about important medical breakthroughs that may come later, as a result of our better understanding of the basic biology of stem cells.

The other thing to keep in mind is that pharmaceutical companies are driven by one thing, money. Most of the research that is being done by NIH funds, even that geared towards curing disease, would not be done if not for the NIH. The money just isn't enough to lure the pharmaceutical companies into it. Research which is lucrative enough the pharm companies are already doing. Without the NIH sponsoring research in the other areas, many of the treatments, medications, vaccines that you and your loved ones may depend on would not exist. The pharm companies might eventually get around to spending in those other areas, but it would take decades more before things currently available would be then. If your loved one needs that advance in medicine now, I think you would think it is very worthy of funding. If we were talking about the government spending money for a technology widget for a computer or TV I would agree with you, but we are talking about medicines here, and different guidelines are appropriate for public interest/investment when the lack of the research may mean disease or death for many of them.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665998)

"If we were talking about the government spending money for a technology widget for a computer or TV I would agree with you, but we are talking about medicines here,"

Then we disagree, because I see no difference, in the end, both constitute corporate welfare. No where in the Constitution or in natural law is there a right to a healthy life, just to life itself.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668018)

Where in the constitution does it say there is a right to have well maintained roads with few potholes? Guardrails on the road? Good lane markings and signs? Nowhere. But the government spends money on all those thing, and actually pays companies directly to do them. OMG, corporate welfare!! Why do we do that? Because society as a whole benefits from those things. The same with medical research.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Re:Would it really matter? (1)

Undertaker43017 (586306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668538)

All good points! I never said the government should be spending money on ANY of those things, we were just talking about one small area that the US government wastes money, there are PLENTY of other examples, SS, Medicare, "bridges to no where", congressional pay raises, how many different "intelligence" agencies does one government need?, etc...

BTW, in the Ohio the lane markings are absolutely the worst I have ever seen (they all but disappear when it is raining at night), and I clearly (no pun intended) wish they would stop giving tax payer money to whichever company makes that paint!

But with roads I get something in return... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17747588)

Government may be paying companies for road work, but I get the value of being able to use said roads in return.

A better analogy for what exists would be that I pay taxes to build and maintain a road, but in order to use that road I also have to pay a significant toll to the contractor that built it. The toll does little to benefit anyone or maintain the road, but instead results in profit for a select few who know how to work the political system and provide kickbacks.

So not only is it corporate welfare, but it's double dipping. Add in medicare/aid/whatever and it's triple dipping, etc.

Uh, yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17662642)

Does public funding really turn their results into public property?

If you're feeding at the public trough, your research should be available to the public.

Want to keep your research private, get private funding.

Re:Uh, yeah! (3, Insightful)

philipgar (595691) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663232)

You act like the distinction is cut and dry, and that it's obvious who's paying for research. What if you are a professor at a major university doing a study. You have one student who is funded from grants by private industry, and others by NSF grants. The one on the NSF grant builds a new research infrastructure the other student later uses for his research. Should that other student than have all his work publicly available? Also you act like the students won't be helping each other out etc.

Basically it's almost impossible to find private research today that ISN'T in part funded by the government. In fact even projects that have all private money indirectly are getting government funding. Who do you think paid to train the scientists working on those projects? It isn't cheap to create scientists. Generally it takes 4-10 years of graduate studies, each year costing tens of thousands of dollars etc etc.

Additionally what about the person who comes up with an outside idea while being funded by a government source. If they can't stay on and work on it (and gain from it) they might just leave their government source and work independently now. Is this really what we want?

Also not all work that is done is publishable. Much of it isn't, such as many studies that find "negative results" such as "doing XYZ didn't solve problem ABC". This results in much of this work being repeated by multiple groups.

Then there's the question of who cares? for the vast majority of research, the public just doesn't care about. Unless you're directly doing that research as well it doesn't effect you.


Re:Uh, yeah! (1)

innocent_white_lamb (151825) | more than 7 years ago | (#17706372)

What if you are a professor at a major university doing a study.
Is the university funded by tax dollars?
After they accept the first government dime, the work should become public domain.
  The one on the NSF grant builds a new research infrastructure the other student later uses for his research. Should that other student than have all his work publicly available?
Of course. I don't see where (or why) there would be any other answer.
  Basically it's almost impossible to find private research today that ISN'T in part funded by the government.
Well, there you are then. A large body of research that is made available to the publich should lead to advances in many fields of study, and opportunities for researchers to cooperate and collaborate on projects will be greatly expanded and become more obvious to those participating.
There you go.

Caveat Imperator (1)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662672)

The data should be public but I would just add one small caveat. There should be a substantial delay in releasing the data in order to give the sponsor the first go at publishing it.

It's the same thing that they do with Hubble images. If you take all the time necessary to write a (lengthy) proposal to have the HST take a picture, then you patiently wait (perhaps years) for your turn in line, then finally you get your image - but some other random shmoe throws together a paper describing it, well, how much would that suck? You did all the leg work, you should be able to publish and get the recognition.

After that of course, it's fine to make the data public.

Weather data? (1)

pixelpshr (1004061) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663194)

Don't forget that, using similar logic, some Senator (Arlin Specter, R-PA, I think) wanted to force NOAA to stop distributing its weather satellite imagery and data. He wanted it only available through commercial organizations like AccuWeather and The Weather Channel.

Re:Weather data? (1)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663892)

Don't forget that, using similar logic

I don't see how it's similar logic at all. A weather satellite is pointed at the Earth and takes pictures of the Earth. That's all it does. What is AccuWeather's contribution? Not a whole lot. AccuWeather just wanted the government to package up a business model and give it to them as a gift.

Compare with what I said about the HST. The HST looks at an area of the sky about the side of your thumb held at arms length. How does it know where to point? Well, some scientist comes up with an idea and submits a proposal asking to have the HST pointed at that particular thumb-sized area. What is the scientist's contribution? Well, he or she had to study past work, had to come up with a unique idea (a theory), had to articulate that idea in a proposal, and so on. I think that person deserves the right to publish a paper. That doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

The HST is of course named for Edwin Hubble. He is famous for his discovery that redshift increases with distance - thus, the universe is expanding. To make this discovery, he had to make detailed observations of MANY galaxies. It took him a lot of time and a lot of hard work to do that. The wiki page says his data set consisted of 46 galaxies. Undoubtedly, he looked at other galaxies but was unable to use that data (maybe his instruments were not sensitive enough to determine their redshift). Undoubtedly, there were nights where cloud cover prevented him from working. Undoubtedly, he ended up with some smudged images and had to repeat some observations.

The point is, it took him a LONG time to get those 46 galaxies. But having 46 galaxies gives him a good solid trend line. What Hubble did is called good science, but it took time. For all his hard work, he is famous, and he deserve some fame.

Now imagine that every time he made an observation it was immediately published on a website. Now I come along and look at his first 10 galaxies and publish a paper titled "The Oni Conjecture, the Universe is Expanding."

Now suddenly, *I'm* famous. And instead of "The Hubble Constant" kids in school are learning about "The Oni Constant." And Edwin Hubble would be remembered for "having gathered additional data to confirm the Oni Constant." Does any of that seem fair to you??

Re:Weather data? (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 7 years ago | (#17667036)

Science is always driven by "publish first or die" doctrine. If you come up with the constant before Hubble, that means you are more clever than Hubble himself and worthy of the "Oni Constant". AS long as you cite Hubble, you are fine and Hubble should be satisfied (albeit, and a bit crestfallen).

Re:Weather data? (1)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17667972)

Science is always driven by "publish first or die" doctrine. If you come up with the constant before Hubble, that means you are more clever than Hubble himself and worthy of the "Oni Constant".

It's possible you missed my point. Good science - that's my point. How many observations do I have to make in order to call it good science?

Hubble knew that he needed a lot, on the order of 40. But the trend became apparent early on. So after only five or six observations, I could have published "the Oni Constant" and I would have been (lucky and) right. But that's not good science, any more than temperature observations over the last few days could be used to show a global climate trend.

Do you really not see what I'm getting at here? We want to encourage good science. We do not want people rushing to get a paper out just to beat someone else. We want people like Hubble to say, "ok, I need to do some more work to confirm this" We don't want him saying, "OMFG THESE TWO PICS ARE TEH RED!!!11 IM GONNA WRITE ABOUT IT."

In many ways, we do get a lot of that today. We get people rushing to tell the media that they have discovered cold fusion. Then later it has to be retracted. We don't want that. We want to give a scientist a tiny, tiny, reasonable amount of privacy so that they will do good work.

If I thought up the idea that maybe the universe is expanding and I applied for the telescope time to see if I'm right, give me a little bit of space to publish. That is totally reasonable.

Re:Weather data? (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 7 years ago | (#17667150)

Oh well, IMHO, Hubble is overrated. If Henrietta Leavitt didn't exist, Hubble would have never come up with the distances of the galaxies therefore no Hubble constant. :)

Re:Caveat Imperator (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663428)

If some poor schmoe is able to do all your multi-year work in a few days then maybe you deserve it.

Re:Caveat Imperator (1)

munpfazy (694689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17673362)

If some poor schmoe is able to do all your multi-year work in a few days then maybe you deserve it.

Perhaps, but a more relevant case is that some poor schmoe with the same knowledge and tools as you but with more time to devote to the analysis of a particular data set is able to do your work a little bit faster than you.

In the field where I work (cosmology with ground based CMB telescopes), a team of twenty people can easily work full time for years building an instrument. Tends of man-years are spent installing and calibrating it, figuring out where to point it, and writing software to capture and preprocess the data. Then someone has to manually set up and run the instrument while it's taking data.

At the end of the day, the "unreduced" data that comes streaming out of the back side of our instrument is the result of years of work. If we put it up live immediately, someone could easily take it and publish a map before we could, especially if they knew or could guess something about the form of the data, which wouldn't be too hard, given the proposals and conference talks floating around. What's more, our competitor would have the benefit of months of leisure during which to try out data analysis algorithms before the data appears, while we're all working 100 hour weeks just assembling and testing the thing.

Now, you can certainly bring a few dedicated analysis guys into the collaboration early on in an effort to get a full data analysis pipeline up and running as soon as possible. They're likely to have a slight advantage over competitors, given advanced knowledge of the instrument and form of the raw data. But, artificially broadening a collaboration solely in order to stand a fighting chance at competing with outsiders has its own drawbacks. Handing off all of the analysis to someone else isn't particularly more attractive just because the other guy agrees to put your name on the paper.

Under those circumstances, it seems entirely reasonable to me to demand that data be made public eventually, say when the first results paper based upon it is approved for publication, or after a fixed window of time. But, requiring immediate release provides little benefit could do a great deal of harm.

When it comes to a facilities instrument, like the Hubble, a more demanding release schedule may be appropriate. But, even when data formats and instrument parameters are fixed and researchers don't need to build instruments, it still takes a nontrivial amount of time and effort to choose an observing strategy, submit proposals, arrange for followups, etc. And, as in the parent poster's example, there are times when the rush to publish first could easily reward people who are willing to run with a barely-adequate measurement instead of those who do things right. (That happens anyway in some cases, but unrestricted immediate data release could only hurt.)

Re:Caveat Imperator (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 7 years ago | (#17676284)

So? You know, those telescopes, particle accelerators are built (and funded by taxpayers) not to allow your team to take a credit for some piece of new knowledge. They are built to advance science.

If someone can do analysis faster and cheaper than you can - let them do it.

If you built a super fine tool - you should have your bit of fame from all research done with this tool, because you really deserve it. But not releasing data to public to gain some fame from exclusive access to data - that's selfish.

define 'substantial' (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664412)

If you're talking on the order of a 6 month embargo, I could see that. If you're talking two years, I'd have to say that's too long.

I may be biased on the matter, as one of my duties is to distribute some public research data. The data that we generate is released immediately, except for new missions, which have had embargos until they could finish testing the instruments. The data we get from other locations may be embargoed for a few months.

For those who are new to the topic, I'd suggest you take a look at the OpenScience Project [] , the Science Commons [] , the NSF's 2003 Cyberinfrastructure Report [] , the NSB's Government Funding of Scientific Research [] and the Astronomer's Data Manifesto [] for a bit of background (specifically, see Ray Norris's Can Astronomy Manage its Data? [] ).

Re:define 'substantial' (1)

jstomel (985001) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665976)

You've obviously never tried to get a paper through the peer review process. Believe me, 6 months is way too short, a year at a minimum. It really does take that long to publish in the scientific community.

Re:define 'substantial' (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668474)

I haven't, but in theory, everyone else would have that same problem -- so you'd still have a 6 month headstart in the process. Let's also not forget that if people were to be unscrupulous, there's the whole pre-print process were someone could get a head start.

And in some cases, it's not the data itself that gives away what was going on -- eg. K40506A [] .

Also, people are free to find other funding for their efforts, if they want an extended embargo period, or to never release their data.

Re:Caveat Imperator (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668896)

The data should be public but I would just add one small caveat. There should be a substantial delay in releasing the data in order to give the sponsor the first go at publishing it.

Yes, a sponser, ie someone who pays for it, should get first dibs. So when it's the taxpayer paying they shoud get first dibs too and have it placed in the public domain.


Yes (2, Insightful)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662734)

I've often wondered why, if the scientists themselves are willing to publish results for free, the journals don't follow suit? When I began doing research, I was a student in a university that did not have access to all of the journals I needed. This was incredibly frustrating and may have negatively impacted my research, as I was unable to do an extensive literature review (there are only so many times one is willing to pay for articles before the bill gets quite large). Perhaps most universities have access to the journals, but the journals don't have any right to restrict access to others' research in the first place, IMO.

This happens in music as well. Trying to find free sheet music of classical public domain works can be quite challenging, though projects like Mutopia are beginning to change this.

Re:Yes (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662830)

I may have been answering a slightly different question than the article asks.

I am also of the opinion that any work receiving public funding should be made public. It isn't that common for research to be kept private, though; scientists generally want to publish. A more common scenario may be patenting publicly-funded research, which still necessitates disclosure (but prevents anyone else from acting upon that disclosure).

yes! (2, Informative)

metalcup (897029) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662768)

I am a researcher (biologist). Since I work in a university, all my experiments have been funded by the tax-payer - hell, even my salary is paid by the tax-payer! So I believe publicly funded research data must be public.

I think the primary problem with a model where everyone has acccess to such research has been the fact that scientific research is distributed in the form of peer-reviewed scientific journals - which required paid subscriptions. However, in the last 3-5 years,some very respectable and highly cited open access journals have come up - check out or Biomedcentralahref= l=url2html-28477 []> - they are open access publishers who don't charge for access - instead, they charge the authors for the publication costs. If I remember correctly, NIH has stated that all research performed at NIH must be published in open access journals. Many grants now have specific amounts of money set aside for publication charges - supporting the open access model.

Hopefully, in a few years time, all significant and important research will be available publicly. Obviously, we could choose to voluntarily block public access to some forms of research - defence research,etc. But then again, what percentage of sensitive nuclear/defence research actually gets published in peer-reviewed literature in the first place?

You left out a step (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663054)

I believe you left out a step in your argument:

I am a researcher (biologist).
Since I work in a university, all my experiments have been funded by the tax-payer - hell, even my salary is paid by the tax-payer!
[I am a basically honest person and don't let greed run roughshod over my sense of what is right]
So I believe publicly funded research data must be public.

Of course, it's possible to deduce what the missing step was from context.


Re:yes! (1)

tenco (773732) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663214)

However, in the last 3-5 years,some very respectable and highly cited open access journals have come up - check out or Biomedcentral [] - they are open access publishers who don't charge for access - instead, they charge the authors for the publication costs.

For Physics, Mathematics, CS and Quantitative Biology:

Arxiv []

Re:yes! (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 7 years ago | (#17669754)

Arxiv is not, AFAIK, peer reviewed. As such, you'll find an awful lot of crap in there.

Re:yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17665226)

The problem with this is that BMC are willing to publish almost anything however bad provided that they get paid.

Information aquired under the patriot act? (1)

guysmilee (720583) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662902)

Information acquired under the patriot act?

Of course it should be public (2, Informative)

tastiles (466054) | more than 7 years ago | (#17662946)

As a scientist funded by the U.S. National Instiutes of Health, the answer has already been chosen. The NIH requires that all data be made freely accessible to the public within one year of generating a published report of the data. And that all manuscripts be made freely available within 6 months of publication.

I completely agree that this is the way things should be. The people of this nation pay my research bills, it should be their data. However, if I innovate something, I am free to file a patent. In fact, the patent office already has a one-year rule between publicly discussing an idea and filing for a patent. Patents are made to protect intellectual property, research should be free and clear.

No Publically funded but privately owned patents (2, Insightful)

HighOrbit (631451) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664842)

The people of this nation pay my research bills, it should be their data. However, if I innovate something, I am free to file a patent.
That may be the system now, but I think that is morally wrong. If the research leading to the "innovation" is publically funded, then the innovation should be publically owned.

IMHO, any of the following should apply:
  1. patents resulting from publically funded research should never be granted (i.e. its free and open tech)
  2. drug companies with publically funded patents should be forbidden from including "R&D" cost in the prices of their drugs as a condition of their patent grants, because the taxpayer has already paid once. The price would be regulated to contain only operational production cost, limited overhead, and a limited "fair" profit (nte 10%)
  3. a special class of patent (say 5 years) for partial public funding to allow the company to recoup their portion of the costs
I am hesitant to advocate direct price controls because I am a economic libertarian, but patents are a special case since they are a government granted monopoly. If the research leading to the invention was funded by the government to begin with, the government has a extraordinary moral right to the end result.

Public research is not public (3, Interesting)

ObiWanStevobi (1030352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663006)

Under the guise of national security, the executive branch can censor or block any research they see fit, even from congress, let alone citizens. A George Bush signing statement expanded this saying that the executive branch can withold any research that could impair the workings of the exective branch.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information ''prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay." Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch. Link []

Although I am sensative to the free information argument, I can see witholding things like weapons research, nuke material transportation and gathering, etc. There are just some things the sick people who have a need for such things should have to do on their own. What bothers me is any research that could impair the workings of the executive branch. Lets say the executive branch is working on promoting revised environmental policy loosened emmissions to save money. This would seem to say they could withold any public research that would hurt their goal.

So public research is not required to be given to the public, or even anyone besides the president. Should it be? I'd say in a vast majority of cases, yes. But I do think it is best we withold info that would make creating advanced weaponry easy for others.

Re:Public research is not public (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664514)

A signing statement does not modify any law. A signing statement is a petulant child whining about the rules he is told to follow.

Re:Public research is not public (1)

ObiWanStevobi (1030352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665144)

It modifies the intent and interpretaton of the law by courts and sets guidelines for the enforcement of the law by the executive branch. If the law is enforced per the signing statement, which it is, the statement might as well be law.

A good explanation here [] .

Re:Public research is not public (1)

krlynch (158571) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665246)

A signing statement is not "a petulant child whining about the rules he is told to follow". Nor is it law, and I don't think I've ever seen any serious claim that it is. It's more akin to "legislative history", congressional "fact finding", and executive orders, which also aren't "law" in the Constitutional sense. A signing statement is nothing more than a statement by the executive branch on what IT thinks a law just signed means, on its reach in the face of conflicting requirements that arise in other laws, treaties, and the Constitution, and how the executive intends to comply with the statutory text consistent with those other constraints. You can agree with those interpretations or not, but the text isn't legally binding on anyone. To the extent that they influence the outcome of court actions, they carry no more weight than "legislative history" and "fact finding" statements, the arguments of parties to a lawsuit, or opinions requested by a court from the Solicitor General's office, for instance. They are hardly a threat to the constitutional order of our republic.

Out of curiosity, why don't you see an explicit statement from the executive branch on how it interprets statutory text as a good thing? Isn't it better for the executive to be public, open, andd consistent about its interpretation of the law and Constitution, than to hide its interpretation behind closed doors, or even worse, to change its theory from day-to-day or state-to-state or official-to-official?

Personally, I think you'll be seeing more signing statements from President's of both parties in the future, and I don't see that as a bad thing at all.

Non-public patents: Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 (1)

said_captain_said_wo (889009) | more than 7 years ago | (#17665344)

Possibly releated to this is the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. Here's a good summary page about what happens to inventions that are considered "too sensitive" to national security: ml [] I wonder if most people realize this provision exists in the patent law for the government to keep information quiet, and it really makes me wonder what might be contained in the some 4800 patent applications.

Another bit of pro-business, anti-public law (3, Interesting)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663022)

Read up on the Bayh-Dole Act. [] This is the specific reason why your research tax dollars generate stock value as opposed to public knowledge.

Re:Another bit of pro-business, anti-public law (1)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663296)

I should probably note that while the effects of this law are not universal, they are widespread, giving universities every incentive to set publicly-funded research goals based on marketability as opposed to scientific or practical necessity. Hence, antidepressants instead of a deeper understanding of the brain and mind. The effects of Bayh-Dole on medical research are appalling. (Not that the government, were it still to retain patent rights to federally-funded discoveries, would be much less resistant to financial temptation. Certainly not in the absence of highly-motivated and pervasive public oversight of research funding.)

Yes, but make sure funding is available (2, Insightful)

rockmuelle (575982) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663034)

Publicly funded results should be made available, but the funding source should also provide the funding to do so. Going from the raw data used to produce the results in a research study to raw data that can be used by other researchers is an expensive process. There are a number of workflows and tools used in processing the results that will not be available to other researchers. The common FOSS argument is only use open tools, but for many scientific applications, this is not possible. Just try telling an engineer to give up Matlab for medium-scale numeric computing in favor of your favorite scripting language. They won't accept it, and for good reasons.

Instead, the funding sources (e.g. NSF, NIH, DOD, etc) should include additional support in grants for the final step of making data available in a common format. Scientists can use their favorite tools for this and commercial tools can simply support the open publication formats. Better yet, create a National Data Repository whose purpose is to handle the final data preparation and dissemation.

For publically funded software, a similar process should occur. Most research software, while useful for a very narrow set of example applications, is not developed to the point where it is usable outside these tight constraints. This is simply because there is no research incentive to go any further than "good enough for publication". Without requiring specific languages, the funding agencies should provide enough money to finish the software engineering process and enable truly reusable software results. Some labs already meet this standard, but it's not cheap (they usually have a full time development staff in addition to the grad-student and post-doc researchers).

Most scientists don't have the time or resrouces to change current process, so it's really up to the public to not only push for open data, but also suggest and support realistic approaches to the problem.


Re:Yes, but make sure funding is available (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17664142)

There are some models for this, including the National Nuclear Data Center ( [] ) and the Protein Data Bank ( [] ). I'm sure there are other examples out there.
(Disclosure - I currently work at BNL, where the NNDC is located and the PDB originated).

Re:Yes, but make sure funding is available (3, Insightful)

krlynch (158571) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664778)

Publicly funded results should be made available, but the funding source should also provide the funding to do so.

If by "results" you mean raw data, then the funding is a significant problem in almost every field of scientific endeavor. But it's not just the funding. For any non-trivial experiment, the raw data is meaningless to all but a very small number of actively involved investigators. To make that raw data available in a form that would be potentially useful to the vanishingly small fraction of people capable of doing something would add months or years of work to most projects (documenting, archiving, documenting, and documenting some more, etc.). A large fraction of useful and important projects could become fiscally infeasible to operate. Further, funding for short projects would have to be continued for years or decades to maintain and support archival maintenance of data that no one (including the original collectors!) cares about any longer.

Take an example from my own current research work in high energy physics: I work on a "small" experiment involving about 20 physicists. Over the 7-10 year life of the project, we'll collect about 200TB of data ... that's almost nothing in the grand scheme of modern high energy physics experiments. We already have to deal with not having enough funding to maintain all that data live _for our own analysis_, much less for public consumption; we need months of CPU time just to convert the raw data to an intermediate format for further analysis. The goal of the experiment is a measurement with a precision of 1 part per million; nderstanding the detailed subtleties of the physics, geometry, hardware, software, firmware, human interaction, numerics, mathematics, external influences like cosmic rays, etc. is the work of a number of PhD, Master's and Bachelor's theses over that 10 year period. We're talking a few hundred man-years of work here. And when the work is all done, we'll publish a few papers, and then the collaboration will scatter to the proverbial winds, moving on to other projects. There won't be anyone left to spend their time and energy maintaining the raw information that went into the experiment, documenting things at the level necessary for outsiders to be able to do anything with it, answering questions, etc. More importantly, no outsider will ever be able to understand the experiment at the level necessary to get the "right result" from it, because they won't have ever gotten their hands dirty with the hardware and data taking.

This is the sort of idea that is emotionally compelling, but makes little sense to anyone that has actually done the hard work of taking and analyzing data in the real world. The immense fiscal costs of such a policy will bring nothing more than illusory benefits, and are just not justified in my opinion.

Ethical positions (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663252)

There are three classes of ethical theories in use: theories of rights, theories of utility and virtue ethics.

Under a theory of rights, it is hard to see how the public is not entitled to data that it paid for. If the public is deprived of the data, then the taxation used to pay for the data becomes theft.

Under a theory of utility, the question becomes whether the public benefits more from privatising public data or from putting it in the public domain. This has to be judged on a case by case basis. It is possible that medical research might need to be privatised in order to get commercial distribution of otherwise unprofitable treatments. The geographic data in question is so immediately useful that the public does not need a third party to "commercialize" it.

Under theories of virtue, the question is whether the public character is enhanced most by open exchange of data, or by privatising data. I think there is plenty of opportunity for private enterprise to add value to data, so on the whole openness is better.

Of course, what is going on here is that public agencies want to do more with less funding. Usually this is a good thing, but in this case they are ignoring the overall public good. What they are doing is reducing the amount of taxation (good), but turning a portion of that taxation into theft (bad).

It's worse than that,really (2, Interesting)

gd23ka (324741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663450)

No, most publically funded research is not available to the public, at least not for free.
But it's not just the public money that is spent on research that is misappropiated, it is
in fact the entire infrastructure that private corporations get use of for next to

Most university departments "cooperate" in research with private corporations in that
those corporations put the professors in charge of the dept on their payrolls. They in turn
"align their research" with what the corps want and put the university infrastructure
(labs, equipment, students and employees) to work for them.

Public owns the data (1)

dahl_ag (415660) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663538)

I look at it like this. If you are a reasearcher working for a private company and the owner of the company tells you that he/she wants to see all of your data (both raw data and analysis/conclusions), you are surely going to give them the data. (assuming you want to remain employed). In my mind, the same thing applies to publicly funded research. In this case, the owner of the data is the taxpaying public. And the data should be available to them. I think that when the results of research are published, the corresponding raw data should be published. As for research results that aren't published, I am sure someone can come up with a mechanism for publishing that raw data too. Anyway... I am a programmer that comes from a biology background. The company that I am programmer with now is not even vaguely related to biological research. I have many times found myself wanting some raw data that I could play with in developing algorithms in my free time. As a taxpayer who funds research, I think I should be entitled to the data.

Research is public already, at least in astronomy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17664136)

Data usually gets made publicly available and is often put on the web, and the data behind any published paper should always be available to anyone who asks (for verification purposes, but that doesn't stop you doing your own analysis). There's sometimes a delay of a year or two, for reasons covered elsewhere in this discussion.
If you want raw data, find a suitable paper and ask the author (be polite and concise, etc, you are their employer but so are millions of others, and those others want their employee scientists to get on with their research). Try searching the web too, there may already be online databases of what you want.

Likewise, most research software in astronomy is open-source, or at least freeware (notable exceptions IDL and mathematica), and it all runs on linux.

Journals aren't free, but abstracts are. If you'd like to read something you've seen the abstract of you can email the corresponding author of a paper (listed with the abstract) and they'll give you an offprint (most likely a PDF) for free, or you can usually get a preprint from the arxiv server.

Anyone, from anywhere in the world could replicate all my research without spending a cent, aside from the costs of time and computation/bandwidth.

Re:Public owns the data (1)

dahl_ag (415660) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664578)

I am familiar with the vast amount of astronomy data that is available and have used it in the past. (It is interesting that astronomy has such a strong amature component that makes real scientific contribution.) I guess I wish other fields were making their data as EASILY available as the astronomy community is. In this internet age, you have to wonder why some fields are more likely to preemptively make data available than others.

Wrong with current system? (1)

blakestah (91866) | more than 7 years ago | (#17663580)

This suggests there is something wrong with the current system...

In the current system, journal and libraries charge a fee to
1) pay for editors who have some knowledge of the material
2) pay for the administration of the peer-review process
3) pay for distribution costs

It is not like you really pay for access to the research. There are simply costs associated with ranking the research relative to other research via peer review (and this is essential), and costs associated with distribution.

As it is now, if you have access to a decent library, you have access to all published research...

And if you want to make it all public domain, you need to figure out how to conduct reasonable peer-review/ranking of papers, and distribution using public funds (this is actually the easy part). And how to deal with the journals, some of which make a LOT of money, when you tell them you are eminent domaining their business model...

yes. and the public should profit from any patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17664464)

yes, the results should be public and the resulting patents should be owned by the public and actually used to turn a profit in the public's interest thereby reducing tax burdens.

What about privacy? A slashdot must-have topic. (1)

mzsanford (1052950) | more than 7 years ago | (#17664880)

Imagine if the University Of YourState had done the aol search log research ( [] ). The reported legitimate user of that data was Phd students in computer science and information retrieval. Making things public is nice, but I would hesitate to take it full speed and make a law requiring it (which with all things slashdot, it's all or nothing). Not because there is no review, but because, like the case of aol, there was review but they were scientists, not security experts and hosed it up.

Public data release at NIH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17665002)

I'm not responding as a representative of the US Government, and my opinions are my own, but I work at the NIH, and as far as NIH research goes it seems like the trend is more and more towards full open access. We're "strongly encouraged" to deposit all publications in PubMed Central and to do what we can to make them publicly accessible as quickly as possible.

Also, as far as I know all my official business writings are, by default, without copyright and completely in the public domain. At least the boilerplate I was told to put in whatever software I send out says that, though it does beg people to attribute the source of their software in anything they do so I (and NIH) get some credit.

I know several scientists around are actively trying to publish in some of the new open access journals and it seems like a lot of the bigger journals are promoting some kind of open access or open access option (eg. author pays a bunch more money and their article is open access). It seems to me that the biggest barrier to more people depositing their work in PubMed Central is that people don't know very well how to do it and what the rules each journal is for public access so they don't bother doing it.

Utter tosh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17665580)

"Gauss and Google made patent data available." ????

I hate to break it to the submitter, but patent data has always been freely available to the public. In fact it's the law. In exchange for grant of a patent, it must be published. Most patent offices around the world have online freely accessible databases of patents and patent applications. Google did not invent the patent search.

View on free data from a publishing scientist (1)

caesar-auf-nihil (513828) | more than 7 years ago | (#17666050)

I am a publishing scientist, and have published data funded by public dollars (US government) in scientific journals, and so I have a ethical opinion to share, as well as a practical one which slightly contradicts the ethical one.

Ethical opinion: Absolutely - data created with public money should be free and available to the public that paid for it. So in the case of a US government grant (say from National Science Foundation or even Office of Naval Research) US citizens should be allowed to access the data for free, they paid for it didn't they? But if a non-US citizen, who has not paid taxes to fund the research wants to access the paper for free - this shouldn't be as easy, but ideally as one scientist to another, it should be given provided the other scientist shares something freely in return.

Practical opinion: The reason why access isn't free is that ultimately someone has to pay for creating the article, getting it cleaned up, reviewed, and into a publishable format for others to read. To quote my favorite SciFi author (Heinlein), There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. It costs money for the journals to clean up the formatting on a paper and put it into a publishable format, even to convert it to .html for online access. Maintaining those servers, running a peer-review process in a timely manner (which includes the editor running herd over many potential reviewers, all of which are of varying quality and speed), and handling problems all takes time and money to accomplish. While I do think some journals charge way too much for subscriptions of journals that are so-so in quality, ultimately I appreciate the hard work and cost that goes into doing this work. What most people don't realize is that peer-review is on a whole a free process; scientists donate their time to review other scientist's work to make sure its correct and not bogus. I review at least 2 papers a month, and since I can't find time to get it done at work, I take these home and work on them in the evening, even cleaning up grammar from non-US authors. Sometimes one paper can take 4 hours to review properly. So nothing is truly free, and therefore, someone has to pay for it, even if the original data was paid for by a taxpayer somewhere.

So there is the other practical solution in place already, but its slow, and that is requesting reprints and/or interlibrary loan. Right now one can access the titles and abstracts for just about every major scientific journal for free, just not the paper. So if you really want a copy and can't afford it, you can send an email to the author and ask them for a "reprint" of the paper. If the author feels generous and has enough print copies left over, you'll get one in the mail. If not, maybe a .pdf. At worst you'll get ignored but then if you work for a university you can get access to the paper through interlibrary loan...and maybe even through a good public library if you are willing to work with the librarian. In both cases you don't have to pay to get a copy of the paper, but it can take a very long time to receive your free copy either way.

Ideally it would be nice to make the data and results free to all, but in practice someone has to pay. Either more tax dollars go to support all the publishing services to make the data free, or we stick with the existing system and if you really want the data, you have to put forth the effort to go and get it. Not a perfect system, but it works better than a lot of people think it does.

Taxpayers should own it OR cash equivalent (1)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 7 years ago | (#17666340)

Well, of course the taxpayers should end up "owning" whatever it is that they buy.

But I do have one alternative to it being free, that I think would be just as fair. First, make sure you account for whatever the taxpayers really paid into it. Then, that figure becomes the minimum bid in an auction. If private parties want to own the research, make 'em pay a fair market value for it, into the public fund.

If it's publically funded (1)

nightfire-unique (253895) | more than 7 years ago | (#17666604)

If it's publically funded, it is morally bankrupt to restrict access to those who paid for it.

Imagine you receive a bill from the publically owned water utility. You pay them $500 as required by law, and they still cut your water off. Then they send you another letter, saying that if you want water, you'll have to negotiate an additional water-access contract.

People would never stand for that. Why should access to publically funded research results be any different?

IP ownership (1)

Cauchy (61097) | more than 7 years ago | (#17668790)

Having worked for both the Federal gov't and a number of contractors (including one I owned), I can say the following:

Anything written by a gov't employee is not subject to copyrighting (17 U.S.C. 101). If something is written by a non-gov't employee using gov't funds, I'm not sure entirely what the rules are, but it is not necessarily not copyrighted. I know this because if a gov't employee writes a journal article, the article is not copyrighted, but if someone (professor/contractor/etc) working on gov't funds writes the article, the copyright belongs to the journals publisher (I've published in both situations, the paperwork is different). Whether or not gov't produced documents are in the public domain, however, is subject to classification and such, but I don't claim to be an expert on the FIA.

The gov't holds the right to patent and protect technology developed by gov't employees except in the situation of a Cooperative Research And Development Agreement (CRADA) where private funding of the work can cause a private company (who paid for the work) to own the work. The gov't holds the ip rights to technology developed by contractors using direct gov't funds except in the case of a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant or contract. In the case of a SBIR (or the closely related STTR), the contractor(s) retain the exclusive right to market the developed technology.

Of course not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17669048)

The government has no more obligation to reveal all its information than it does to provide us each with nuclear submarines or a room in the White House. We have transferred the rights over such things to the government along with the money itself. What the government does with the research it has funded is up to it to determine. Don't confuse this with censorship. When the government tries to silence someone, that is cencorship, and it (potentially) violates the rights of that person. On the other hand, when the government chooses to not to disclose something that it has discovered, that is well within its rights.

Patents were available online to anyone... (1)

inotocracy (762166) | more than 7 years ago | (#17672840)

...before Google got to them, just go to I'm sure the Google interface is much easier to use though.

U.S. Government policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17676370)

The U.S. Government policy presently is that results (but not data) from government-funded research can be used by the government. But a non-government worker has all other rights to the data and results. So JPL, as a NASA contractor, might get some data or a pretty picture from a planetary probe. NASA gets a copy of that picture and can use it for government purposes, which might include putting it on a NASA web site. But only the government can use that picture for free. If you want that picture for your screen saver you should contact JPL and ask if you can buy a copy of that picture (or data) and what price they want to charge for it. It's JPL's picture or data. There's another government agency which is collecting a lot of climate model data. But the researchers and non-governmental organizations get to decide what data and results to publish. You can't look at the data and discover what isn't published.

Sometimes? (1)

the_mystic_on_slack (553010) | more than 7 years ago | (#17676646)

The company I work for often receives data from, and shares data with, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The data we share is regarding the environment, specifically diesel emissions. Clearly the research benefits U.S. citizens and poses no security risk and should therefore be publicly available. But there are definitely cases where data should not be made public. Nuclear energy research, any weapons research, and combustion research could fall into that category amongst many others. Sure tax payers paid for it, but that does not mean that they should possess the data directly. There would be nothing stopping the average Joe from putting that data into the world domain. Then the world, who hasn't made any contribution to the research, financially or otherwise, now has this information that U.S. taxpayers footed the bill for.
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