NAS/NRC/CODATA Survey Studies Data Access Across National Boundaries

Volume 11, Number 3, September 1995
By R. Stephen Berry and Paul F. Uhlir
The National Research Council (NRC) has organized a study, chaired by R. Stephen Berry of the University of Chicago, to investigate the barriers and other issues in the transborder flow of scientific data. Scientists commonly encounter barriers in gaining access to data relevant to their research. These barriers, both technical and non-technical, have been a topic of increasing concern in recent years. Sheer volume has been one factor, but by no means the only one. The integration of multidisciplinary data on an international basis to address problems such as global environmental degradation or disease epidemics raises new kinds of challenges in this regard.

The study's goal is to help improve access to scientific data and services internationally. The primary focus is on data in electronic forms, a topic of increasing complexity and importance in scientific research and international collaboration. The study is outlining the needs for data in the major research areas of current scientific interest in the natural sciences. The legal, economic, policy, cultural, and technical factors and trends that have an influence-favorably or negatively-on access to data by the scientific community are being characterized. The study also is identifying and analyzing the barriers to international access to scientific data that may be expected to have the most adverse impact in the natural sciences, with emphasis on factors common to all the disciplines. The study will recommend to the federal government and the scientific community approaches that could help overcome barriers to access internationally.

The study is being performed under the auspices of the U.S. National Committee for the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (USNC/CODATA), a standing committee organized under the NRC, and with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The council is the principal advisory body to the federal government on scientific and technical matters. The USNC/CODATA serves as a bridge between the scientific and technical community in the United States and the international CODATA regarding data issues in the natural sciences.

CODATA is an interdisciplinary committee organized under the International Council of Scientific Unions, a non-governmental organization created in 1931 to promote international scientific activity in the different branches of science and their applications to humanity. According to CODATA's charter, the committee is concerned with all types of quantitative data resulting from experimental measurements or observations in the physical, biological, geological, and astronomical sciences. CODATA's general objectives include the improvement of the quality and accessibility of data as well as the methods by which data are acquired, managed, and analyzed; the facilitation of international cooperation among those collecting, organizing, and using data; and the promotion of an increased awareness in the scientific and technical community of the importance of these activities.

To obtain broad input from the users and suppliers of scientific data, the study committee has developed an "Inquiry to Interested Parties" requesting information on barriers to data access, pricing of data, protection of intellectual property, problems of less developed countries, scientific data for global problems, the use of electronic networks, and other technical issues. Anyone interested in providing views to the study committee is invited to respond to this public inquiry, which is posted on CODATA's World Wide Web Home Page (located at http://www.cisti.nrc.ca/codata/welcome.html). Information about the study and CODATA activities generally may be obtained from Paul F. Uhlir, Director, USNC/CODATA, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

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