More on CODATA "Bits of Power" study

Julian Humphries julian at UKANS.EDU
Fri Apr 11 11:10:07 CDT 1997

A little more info on the Bits of Power study.  What follows are the
introductory remarks to the press provided by the chair of the study
committee, Steve Berry.  Anybody with additional questions about CODATA or
its activities should feel free to contact me for information.

                       Public Briefing April 10, 1997

                              OPENING STATEMENT

                              R. Stephen Berry

  James Franck Distinguished Service Professor Department of Chemistry and
            the James Franck Institute The University of Chicago


    Chair, Committee on Issues in the Transborder Flow of Scientific Data
                          National Research Council

            Good morning.  I welcome you today as we release the report
  Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data.  This report
  represents the work of a National Research Council committee that I have
  chaired during the past two years.  At the behest of the U.S. National
  Committee for CODATA (Committee on Data for Science and Technology of the
  International Council of Scientific Unions), our study group has
  investigated the changing environment for the international exchange of
  data in the natural sciences.  We have completed our study and now offer
  our conclusions and recommendations in this report.
            I shall assume that we all share the view that research in the
  natural sciences is a necessary component of our society, and that
  maintaining the health of this enterprise is something we all consider
  important.  Scientific data are essential to that health; without ready
  access to data, scientists could not conduct their research.
            Fostered by the tools of modern electronic communication, the
  nature of science today is perhaps the most truly international of all
  human activities.  In carrying out our research, we scientists exchange
  ideas and data as readily with colleagues in Tokyo or Sydney or Berlin as
  we do with those in our own universities or federal laboratories.  A
  fundamental principle underlies our report which embodies this
  characteristic in the context of data:  Full and open exchange of
  scientific data -- the "bits of power" on which the health of the
  scientific enterprise depends -- is vital for the nation's progress and
  for maximizing the social benefits that accrue from science worldwide.
  This principle of "full and open exchange" means that data and
  information derived from publicly funded research should be available
  with as few restrictions as possible, on a non-discriminatory basis, for
  no more than the cost of reproduction and distribution.  This principle
  -- sometimes called "the Bromley principle" -- was first
  enunciated in the context of global change research, in a statement of
  the Office of Science and Technology Policy in July, 1991.
            Two trends, sometimes in conflict, are challenging the
  attainment of full and open sharing of scientific data across national
  boundaries.  One is the rapid increase in volume of data that stems from
  technical advances such as computers, networks, and remote sensors.  The
  other is a global trend toward imposing economic and legal restrictions
  on access to scientific data derived from publicly funded research.  The
  first trend forces scientists to re-examine how they carry out their own
  work, and the second, to involve themselves in the formation of public
  policies that will affect their capabilities for doing research.
            One manifestation of these trends acting in concert is the
  growing congestion of the Internet.  This stems from the simultaneous
  needs of scientists to exchange ever-larger volumes of data, and the
  evolution of the primary role of the Internet from a medium of scientific
  communication to a medium of commerce and entertainment.
            The committee is particularly concerned about possible changes
  to treaties and laws covering intellectual property, which would have
  adverse effects on the conduct of science.  The problem reached a crux
  with current attempts, both national and international, to establish a
  new legal framework that threatens to subordinate the needs of scientists
  and others working in the public interest, to the interests of
  entrepreneurs in the business of selling databases.  Put in perspective,
  the challenge of the underlying issue is finding a balance between the
  protection of public goods and the protection of individual intellectual
  property.  Unfortunately, the concerns of the scientific and educational
  communities went unheard in the dialogue until very recently.
            The committee believes that it is imperative for the scientific
  community to have a part in formulating the structures that will suitably
  balance the public and private interests.  This is especially important
  now because the World Intellectual Property Organization is considering a
  new treaty on database protection, and related proposals to enact
  domestic legislation protecting databases are under consideration for
  Congressional action.  We view proposals that have appeared thus far as
  extremely threatening to the conduct of scientific research.  They would
  remove the "fair use" exemptions which have long allowed scientists and
  educators to use copyrighted materials free or at very reduced costs,
  specifically for purposes such as research and teaching.  These proposals
  would create exclusive, monopolistic rights of virtually unlimited
  duration for database owners, and would make it extremely difficult in
  many cases for competitive data-suppliers to enter the market.
            The committee recommends, as a general principle, that full and
  open access be adopted as the international norm for scientific data
  derived from publicly funded research. More specific recommendations fall
  into four categories:  legal issues, economic issues, technological
  issues, and, of course, data issues internal to the natural sciences.
            The five recommendations concerning legal issues are directed
  toward the Office of Science and Technology Policy, science agencies and
  professional societies including CODATA, and all others concerned with
  sustaining the health of the scientific enterprise.
            First, these bodies should advocate and explain to all relevant
  legislative forums the principle of full and open exchange of scientific
            Second, they should demand that national and international
  legislative processes now in progress allow the scientific and
  educational communities to participate in the dialogue and present their
  views.  This must be done to achieve a balance between concerns for
  public goods and for private intellectual property.
            Third, these groups should advocate the incorporation of fair
  use principles into any legislation or regulation structure applying to
  scientific data on electronic media.
            Fourth, these bodies and individuals should work with Congress
  and the U.S. representatives to the World Trade Organization and the
  World Intellectual Property Organization to resist measures that could
  weaken the nation's preeminence in science and technology.
            Finally, these issues should be pursued not only within the
  United States but also internationally, through international scientific
  organizations and U.S. foreign policy channels concerned with
  intellectual property.
            The dominant economic concerns of the report stem from the ways
  and means by which scientific data are generated, archived and
  distributed, and with the trend toward commercialization of increasing
  quantities of data.  Some of this commercialization is privatization of
  activities that were previously done by governments, and some is entry of
  governments into commercial vending of data.  One might initially suppose
  that privatizing the distribution of scientific data would be desirable.
  However, a careful analysis shows that the market for scientific data is
  very different from those of ordinary commerce, and that privatization
  may, in many situations, be undesirable for the society as a whole.  The
  committee recommends a set of economic criteria for structuring
  facilities and institutions for the distribution of scientific data
  generated by public funding.
            Within the sciences, relevant scientific organizations should
  examine the development of better coordinated networks of data centers.
  Planning is needed now to find stable ways to maintain the effectiveness
  of the Internet or some variant thereof for exchange of scientific
  information.  Scientists who generate data through publicly funded
  research should make their results available as soon as possible.  If
  they wish to hold a data set for some period in order to explore its
  consequences, the duration of that period should be established by the
  particular scientific communities, and adherence should be monitored by
  the appropriate funding agency.  The Office of Science and Technology
  Policy should develop an overall policy for the long-term retention of
  scientific data.  Finally, a variety of efforts, including aid in the
  form of computers and networks, is needed to assist developing countries
  to participate fully in electronic data management and exchange for
  research and education--for their benefit and
            Thank you all.  We would like to begin now to take your
  questions.  Would you come to one of the standing microphones and state
  your name and affiliation before you begin your question?

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