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Access to Research Includes Access to Data!

In February 2013, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to all agency and department heads entitled, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research”.

The memo directed federal agencies that award more than $100 million in research grants to develop plans for increasing public access to peer-reviewed scientific publications. It also requires researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from their federally funded research. (At the same time, the OSTP directive acknowledges that access to some data needs to be controlled to protect human privacy, confidentiality of business secrets, intellectual property interests, and other reasons.)

The OSTP recognizes that research data are valuable and need to be preserved. Increased public access to data – along with better access to the published literature – is fundamental to research, and permits

  • more thorough critiques of theories and interpretations, including replication of research results,
  • scholarly innovation that builds on past work, and
  • practical application of scholarly discoveries.

Access to data is also fundamental to learning and teaching. Students learn best by working with primary evidence, advancing in their studies from carefully selected and constructed datasets to the messier data that describe the real world. And faculty can help each other by sharing the datasets that they have found to be pedagogically effective.

Federal agencies are still in the process of developing their plans for ensuring that this directive is met. But several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, have long required grant applicants to include a data management plan with their applications.

And worldwide, nearly 500 colleges and universities (including Grinnell College) have signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, committing themselves to encouraging broad access to the scholarly research and data created by their faculty.

Whether your institution is a signatory or not, chances are your librarians are a good resource for helping you think about making your data accessible, selecting good file formats, documentation strategies, and possible repositories for long-term preservation. At Grinnell, librarians work with faculty to develop data management plans that meet grant requirements. We also provide two repositories that can host data sets. One, Digital Grinnell, hosts a wide range of scholarly and pedagogic material created by Grinnell faculty, staff, and students, including course projects, syllabi, and pre-prints. The other, the Grinnell College Libraries Data Repository is Grinnell’s node of the Harvard Dataverse Network, an international project to develop “software, protocols, and community connections” to “guarantee long term preservation, and enable researchers to share, retain control of,  and receive web visibility and formal academic citations for their data contributions.” We encourage Grinnell faculty to contact us about their data needs, and faculty and librarians at other institutions to recognize the importance of data for learning and for research, and to take steps to share their data and ensure that it will remain available to future generations of students and researchers.

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