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A Data Access Conundrum

Officials at the National Institutes of Health are anticipating that problems will arise with implementation of the Shelby amendment. Passed by Congress last year, the amendment mandates that scientists make data from federally funded projects publicly available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "FOIA is too crude an instrument for this; it was never designed for scientific data sharing," commented Wendy Baldwin, NIH deputy director for extramural research, at a session of the America

Nadia Halim

Officials at the National Institutes of Health are anticipating that problems will arise with implementation of the Shelby amendment. Passed by Congress last year, the amendment mandates that scientists make data from federally funded projects publicly available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "FOIA is too crude an instrument for this; it was never designed for scientific data sharing," commented Wendy Baldwin, NIH deputy director for extramural research, at a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington, D.C., last month.

The first hurdle will be a mechanism for meeting a public request. FOIA offices that are accustomed to dealing with documents held by federal agencies will now have to handle the nuances of getting scientific data from grantees to a private citizen or organization.

The amendment applies only to universities, hospitals, and nonprofit research institutions, not private companies--even if they have...

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