GAO Says Agencies Could Improve Data Sharing in Climate Research
October 22, 2007
WASHINGTON – The Government Accountability Office reports that federally funded climate researchers aren’t always required to follow the government’s own data-sharing policies, and the Republican lawmakers who sought the inquiry say that’s a mistake that needs correction.
“We want to know that critical data and methodology, paid for by taxpayers and used to formulate policy, cannot be hidden from the rest of the research community,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Science works best when scientists are courageous and their work is transparent.”
Barton, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., ranking member of the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, had requested the GAO study of four federal agencies last year after it was discovered that some climate researchers did not share their data with other scientists.
The four agencies – Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation – primarily rely on inter-agency or their own policies and practices to encourage researchers to make climate change data available, GAO reported.
However, GAO found that, while broad policies require data sharing and archiving, specific written guidelines varied among and within the agencies. For example, in its 12 climate-related programs, NOAA has only one program that has a written data-sharing policy and no agency-wide data-sharing policy.
The effectiveness of these policies is unclear.
“While the four agencies have taken steps to foster data sharing, they neither routinely monitor whether researchers make data available nor have fully overcome key obstacles and disincentives to data sharing,” GAO found. “Because agencies do not monitor data sharing, they lack evidence on the extent to which researchers are making data available to others.
“Key obstacles and disincentives could also limit the availability of data. For example, one obstacle is the lack of archives for storing certain kinds of climate change data, such as some ecological data, which places a greater burden on the individual researcher to preserve it,” GAO noted. “In addition, data preparation does not further a research career as does publishing results in journals…. Consequently, researchers are less likely to focus on preserving data for future use, thereby putting the data at risk of being unavailable to others.”
GAO had several recommendations for federal agencies, including to develop mechanisms to monitor archiving and to use the grant process to facilitate data sharing.
A copy of the GAO report can be found here.