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Headlines Published on 21 April 2004

Title Access to research data is critical to science, OECD says

Unfettered access to data from publicly funded research is crucial to advancing science and the public good. However, inconsistency between governments and within the scientific community hinders the open access ideal, an OECD committee recently concluded.

Making the right political and technical connections for research data sharing © Image: PhotoDisc
Making the right political and technical connections for research data sharing

© Image: PhotoDisc
A committee of high-level representatives from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) met earlier this year to discuss the progress of science, technology and innovation in the 21st century. Fuelling the debate was the ongoing controversy over  ‘open access’ to research data and what needs to be done to improve international co-operation in this area.

Providing better access to scientific findings leads to greater long-term economic benefits, more informed government decision-making and faster advances in science itself, according to a report commissioned by the OECD called ‘Governance of public research, benchmarking industry-science relationships, and turning science into business’. The authors studied data-access issues on behalf of the 30-nation organisation.

Discussing the report, science ministers on the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy highlighted the benefits that society can derive from advances in science and technology. “Knowledge creation and diffusion are increasingly important drivers of innovation, sustainable economic growth and social well-being,” the Committee concluded. It emphasised the need to involve civil society and business in the governance of public research.

Borderless research
Peter Arzberger, director of life sciences initiatives at the University of California (US) and the report’s lead author, questions the benefit of investing in IT to help data sharing in the absence of political clout which frees up access. “Countries around the world have invested heavily in the promise of e-science and the emerging cyber-infrastructure which will allow researchers to access data archives, instruments, computers and expertise without regard to geographic[al] location,” he said. “On the other hand, the technological capabilities bring the social and political challenges to the forefront.”

Since the Lisbon Summit in 2000, European leaders have progressively tackled this challenge. The European Research Area (ERA) – a platform to guide and help coordinate Europe-wide research activities and innovation policy – was later set up to regroup and invigorate research across Europe. While the Union’s ‘International co-operation’ initiatives aim to improve research collaboration with other regions. 

The OECD invites governments to develop a set of guidelines which ensure “optimal, cost-effective access” to digital research data resulting from publicly funded research. According to Peter Schroeder – the Committee’s co-chair and coordinator of information policy at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science – these guidelines should put the problem into a wider perspective. “Individual researchers tend to lose interest in data and data infrastructures beyond the scope of their current project… it is important that governments establish the principal rules for our global science system,” he stressed.

The Committee concluded, on January 30, that: “A well-functioning interface between the innovation and science systems is more necessary than ever to reap the economic and social benefits from public and private investments in research, ensure the vitality and quality of the science system, and [to] improve public understanding and acceptance of science and technology [as well as] the importance of innovation.”

Source:  OECD and EU sources

Research Contacts page

More information:

  • Science ministers’ communiqué (January 2004, OECD)
  • European Research Area (on Europa)
  • International Co-operation (on CORDIS)

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